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Our Body review – a brave, unblinking, hospital’s-eye view of women’s health

<span>Unflinching look at life … Our Body</span><span>Photograph: Publicity image</span>
Unflinching look at life … Our BodyPhotograph: Publicity image

Film-maker Claire Simon operates the camera herself for this extraordinary film, assuming the traditional vérité position of an observant fly on the wall and silently recording consultations and procedures in a women’s health, obstetrics and gynaecology ward at a Parisian hospital. Except at a crucial point, two-thirds into the film’s 168-minute running time, the fly turns the camera on herself when she finds out she too has cancer, just like several of the people she’s been filming. Simon’s willingness to open up and reveal her condition is remarkable, but by this point in the film viewers will have been made profoundly aware of how open and brave every patient we have met has been for letting her – and us – into these intensely intimate moments.

Following a natural order of sorts, the first women we meet are pregnant and, in two cases, are seeking a termination. There’s no judgment from any of the doctors, or if there were it would be hard to tell, since this was filmed during Covid and everyone is wearing masks. That said, one doctor politely asks each of his patients to de-mask for a moment, so everyone can see each other more fully.

We then move on to a teenage trans man looking forward to taking testosterone once he turns 18. He might consider, the doctor suggests, having some eggs harvested before hormone treatment starts just in case he wants to have children in the future. This scene relates with another in which we meet a middle-aged trans woman being advised on why she needs to start lowering her own dosage of female hormones for health reasons, creating a kind of menopause.

Elsewhere, we see a woman stoically giving birth, barely making a peep of complaint as she pushes the little one out. We see the whole process of IVF, from the harvesting of eggs and fertilisation to the implantation into the hopeful mother-to-be’s womb.

And then there are the cancer patients. Obviously, anyone who has had cancer or been close to someone who has should understand this as a trigger warning: there are plenty of wrenching scenes of women facing their own mortality and loss of autonomy. But even here there are flashes of humour: one young woman jokes about how all the Uber drivers make passes at her because of her glamorous wig. The camera’s gaze isn’t pitiless but there isn’t a scrap of sentimentality – just an unflinching willingness to look at all of life straight on, without blinking.

• Our Body is on Mubi from 8 March.