BACK TO ECSTASY
Brazil, late 80’s, early ’90s.
A 15 year-old girl runs until she falls.
The story begins here - and will return to it again and again, as she tries to recount why, at some moment in her life, she fell into anorexia, and struggles to free herself from it.
The young woman is Clara, who we follow from the age of 7 to 17 and beyond. Clara was inspired by my own experience of anorexia.
A pregnant woman is in front of a group of mounted policemen. She is preventing the military from invading a factory and attacking the workers on strike. The woman is my mother, and I am the baby in her womb. This scene is pictured in the most striking photograph of my childhood. A month after the image was captured, I was born. Few years after the photograph was taken, my mother would be one of the authors of the Constitution of Brazil, a cornerstone of the country’s redemocratization process.
Before that, she was a leader of a resistance movement against the dictatorship in Brazil and an ex-nun from the Theology of Liberation movement. We lived in a poor neighborhood on the outskirts of São Paulo. While members of the movement held passionate debates in our house, my brother and I would play in the same room, crawling beneath the adults' legs - and enacting our own versions of fairy tales, in which Snow White and Peter Pan were rebellious leaders. When my mom was elected to the House of Representatives, our lives became split between Jardim Angela and the capital, Brasília. To the eyes of a young girl, the National Congress was a place filled with whispered secrets. And I, an explorer, sought to uncover them. I now had a tape recorder and a camera. I snuck into unauthorized places, spinning magic narratives out of my dangerous adventures.
My mother would travel the country carrying out her responsibilities. It was easier to catch a glimpse of her on the TV screen than through the windows of our house in Jardim Angela. I began to feel her absence. The killing of political activists was fresh in Brazilian history. And the experience of the rising of violence each time more concrete. Organized crime and militias were beginning to take the neighborhood. Our house was invaded and robbed seven times. The life threats against my mother were increasing. I feared for her life as much as I admired her courage. I began practicing magical thinking to protect my mother. And those mental games slowly turned more and more radical and I started to develop a system of control over the only thing that I actually could control: my own body.
At the age of eleven, I cloistered away in my room to study obsessively and started weighing myself religiously. After years of ballet classes, I traded my toe shoes for a repetitive physical regimen. I barely ate, but food became an obsession. Years went by, but it felt as though time did not exist. At 15, all I was aware of were my bones gradually protruding from under my skin. And I dove into a brutal pleasure of form. The less I ate, the more energy I had. The more controlled I was, the freer I felt.
The impossibility of communicating what I was going through during those years, and the fact that I could barely recognize my own experience in the movies I saw about anorexia, filled me with the need to convey those overwhelming, enigmatic, delirious years in my own film. It took me about ten years to find a cinematographic language to do it.
I teamed up with important collaborators and conducted research with several other women experiencing the same condition, who shared with me their journals and memories. I also found people around me who wanted to dive into this journey along with me, to understand, implode and reinvent it.
Each time I go back to it I see something different. I see a daughter in a mad and beautiful relationship with her mother. I see a girl who realizes early on that the experience of love might not come so easily to her as it seems to do for most people. I see a child whose subjectivity is directly touched by power and violence. I see an adolescent who rebells against what society offers as being womanhood and adulthood. I see a woman fighting to find her voice. I see a person searching for a food they can enjoy. I see a girl trying to live the bliss of stopping time through the destruction of the body. And I see a girl in a quest for salvation, the sort Orson Welles was talking about when he said that all his films were a search for a paradise lost. When you are bodiless, you are in that paradise, because you are whole and pure. The pursuit of that lost heaven-eden is perhaps one of the myths anorexia presents to us. Just like Adam and Eve perceive their nakedness only after the Fall, it is through the body that we discover the human condition.
What I feel is important to stress at this time in the film’s life cycle, and at this point in story, is that every society is the collective and the individual. Most important of all is our relationship with the other and the system of objects, things, values, that surrounds the body. Who is the other in your experience? Who are the others for you? What is the meaning of those surrounding things?
The problem, in my experience with anorexia anyway, is that the other is taken as a threat. Instead of being something that might broaden your physical being, it negates your body. I had created for myself a world without others. An ecstasy without opening. And I hope this film can show us a little bit about how dangerous the project of living without others is.
What Clara shares in this film, concerns at the same time her anorexia and her relationship to the world that surrounds her. Its meaning is mixed in such a way that is impossible to distinguish one from the other. And Clara’s personal story can’t be separated from the story of the world she lives in. Our world.
Moara Passoni, January 2021.