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Body Odyssey

Bodybuilder Mona takes extreme measures In order to become Miss Universe, egged on by her manager as well as her sexual fantasies about a handsome teen - live from the First Feature Competition of the 27th Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival


Mona (Jacqueline Fuchs) is competing for the title of Miss Universe. In an effort to win, she elects to fast, which will give her time to focus and lose the necessary weight. She is managed by Kurt (played by the late Julian Sands, in what may be his last film role), an erudite Englishman who organises when she diets, works out and copulates. Bored by her current beau, Kurt says he will find her a younger, fitter man to fix her needs. Mona seems non-plussed: She has just met Nic, a handsome teenager with glistening blond hair. Between workouts, she fantasises about him, and decides to pay him a visit at his parents house.

Body Odyssey is a film about fantasy. It’s about glory, gusto, fun. But it’s not a glorious affair. Director Grazia Tricarico establishes too late in the movie that Mona is of poor state of mind. Guided by an invisible voice, Mona makes her decisions based (literally) on what her gut tells her to do, although it’s hard to decipher what is meant to be the real world against the one inside her head. Unlike Birdman (Alejandro G. Iñárritu, 2014), another film about delusion in the face of grandeur, the film isn’t told from the point-of-view of the main character. When Mona falls head first into her imagination, the character does so alone, leaving the audience to watch her transition into madness, without experiencing it first hand.

The drop is understandable, largely because the pressure Mona is under is herculean. Every time she generates muscle, Kurt reminds her that she needs to lose additional body fat. Every time she goes to exercise, her stomach reminds her of the meals she is sacrificing for the competition. And when she agrees to act as Godparent to a colleague’s infant, she unwittingly takes the focus away from the father, mother and doe-like baby. Fuchs delivers the stress well, but there are times when she fails to deliver on some of the emotional undertones of the work. If there’s any envy from her part towards any of the other athletes who are participating in the competition, it’s buried beneath the biceps and thighs. If Mona harbours any feelings beyond animal lust towards Nic, it’s nowhere to be seen in Fuchs’ performance.

Of greater note is Sands’s portrayal. He plays Kurt as a determined, albeit altruistic, man, one who deeply cares about his subject. There’s a hint of sexual tension on his part, which is fitting, because Kurt does occasionally feel like a doting husband. He also harbours a more zealous streak, which is evident in the way he eats chocolate cake in front of Mona; now on a diet of water, and more water.

The film suffers from technical problems – the “invisible voice” is almost impenetrable to make out without the appropriate volume or subtitles. It also boasts too many new characters, many of whom are onscreen for a matter of seconds before seemingly vanishing into thin air. And then there’s the small matter of the underwater scenes, which are fine, but never do anything to further the film’s growing sense of paranoia and desire.

It’s especially telling that Mona’s fixation on a sport that’s driven by men and their egos is only fleetingly referenced when she spots the outline of a beard growing on her face.Like too much in the film, it’s forgotten almost as soon as it is mentioned, and that is its biggest weakness. Again, it’s hard to decipher whether it is evident or a figment of Mona’s imagination, but the beard suits Fuchs, who looks debonair in it. Similarly, the part of Kurt suits Sands, who flits between reason and wrath with impressive flair. His words are sturdy, his eyes purposeful and his clarity concise and purpose driven. Body Odyssey gives Sands the opportunity to showcase his dramatic abilities at full strength.

Body Odyssey just premiered at the First Feature Competition of the 27th Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival.

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