Cinematic narratives of eating disorders run the risk of presenting their characters as largely passive — a risk compounded by the fear of ‘contagion’ that haunt the images of bodies affected by these disorders. Paradigmatic examples are not only the images produced by the fashion industry but also the controversial photos posted online by ‘pro-ana’ communities (often presenting anorexia as a lifestyle). The mimetic aspect indeed plays an ambiguous role in drawing the contours of both the definition and the proliferation of eating disorders. For instance, after having diagnosed ‘bulimia nervosa’ in 1979, the psychiatrist Gerald Russell worried that his description of the symptoms had contributed to the dramatic spread of the pathology itself. This is a question for all newly introduced medical categories: do the symptoms proliferate or the diagnosis? But what is, in this respect, the role of cinema in recirculating both highly visible and hidden aspects of eating disorders forming such a prominent part of today’s visual culture?
Moara Passoni’s Ecstasy (2020, 80 min) tells the story of the development of the film’s protagonist Clara’s anorexia, from her childhood to her late teenage years, against the background of the political changes of 1990s Brazil. In order to find a language that speaks against visual stereotypes of eating disorders and their spectacularization, Moara shows the way Clara perceives and tries to control reality through her relationship with food. Instead of overexposing the anorectic body, or protecting it by leaving its frailty outside the frame, the Brazilian filmmaker puts the audience in front of the ecstatic spectacle Clara witnesses: her phantasies and desires, her idiosyncrasies and her fears. Thus, in Ecstasy, the overused and often obscure word ‘dysmorphia’ takes multiple forms. It does not only correspond to the discrepancy between the way one looks and the way one perceives oneself. Body dysmorphia here also takes the shape of two imaginary friends/enemies of Clara, a blue dot and an egg, revealing how magical thinking is part of eating disorders. And visually most poignant is Moara’s use of both close-ups and extreme close-ups that mirrors Clara’s morbid need to re-redit reality by cutting it into little pieces according to what she calls ‘the geometry of hunger’.
Moara Passoni is a writer-director from Brazil. She graduated from the University of São Paulo in sociology, anthropology, and political sciences, studied dance and performance at Universidade de São Paulo (USP-SP), and philosophy & aesthetics at Université de Paris 8 Vincennes-Saint-Denis. After finishing a master’s in film and documentary at, she earned an MFA in screenwriting and directing from Columbia University. Êxtase (2020) is her first non-fiction film and premiered in the CPH:DOX main competition. The film was screened, among others, at MoMA ‘DocFortnight’ and at Visions du Réel in Nyon and was awarded several prizes, including the Prix D’Innovation Daniel Langlois at the Festival du Cinema Nouveau and the Jury Award for best newcomers at the São Paulo International Film Festival. Passoni co-wrote and associate produced The Edge of Democracy (2019) by Petra Costa. In addition to the Academy Award nomination for Best Documentary, the film was nominated for best narration/writing by The Critics’ Choice Awards and the International Documentary Association.