The fascinating De Humani Corporis Fabrica takes place in various French and Swiss hospitals, documenting everyday life in the different sections. However, it soon becomes clear that this is not a traditional documentary about hospital work.
Instead, the film observes its environment through a surrealist lens. The people working at the hospital are not really at the centre of the story. Often, we only hear their voices, or they wander ghost-like on the edges of the frames. The style makes everyday situations and places feel ominous and haunted. Almost everything is reduced only to its physical presence.
This sensation is amplified by the film’s very visceral surgery scenes. Several sequences in the film are centered around different kinds of medical operations, either filming the body from the outside, or with the help of cameras used to assist in surgeries, even plunging inside the human body. In these scenes, the film reveals its main interest: this is not only a journey through the hospital system, but also a journey through the human body.
The film is the newest work associated with the Harvad Sensory Ethnography Lab project, which became a hot name in documentary filmmaking in the early 2010s. Its directors Véréna Paravel and Lucien Castaing-Taylor have both been involved with several of the most famous films associated with the project, like Leviathan (2012) and Caniba (2017).