You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Berlin Film Review: ‘Flesh Out’

A force-fed bride-to-be awakens to the misogynistic conditions of cultural convention in this emotionally rich first feature.

Michela Occhipinti
Verida Beitta Ahmed Deiche, Amal Saab Bouh Oumar

1 hour 33 minutes

Ignore the awful English-language title: “Flesh Out” is an emotionally rich, sensitively made film about a young woman in Mauritania forced to gain weight in order to conform to traditional concepts of well-rounded beauty before her impending marriage. Strikingly registering the sensations of a protagonist living between the dutiful traditions of her class and the less restrictive social patterns of an increasingly globalized society, the film paints a sympathetic portrait of a woman awakening to misogynistic conditioning disguised as cultural convention. Though Italian director Michela Occhipinti’s knowledge of Mauritania was limited before making the movie, her feature debut largely avoids the feel of a Westerner in exotic lands, and she’s careful to show strong women negotiating the tricky shoals where proud tradition and self-expression merge and scatter. Though an exact translation of the Italian title, “the body of the bride,” would be far more marketable, the film deserves international art-house exposure, and not only for its topical feminist message.

An eye-catching opening, featuring a close-up of a woman in a hijab drinking milk from a black bowl, her gaze directed at the camera, is compositionally and thematically intriguing, making the viewer want to know more. Verida (Verida Beitta Ahmed Deiche) is to be married in three months, but before then, she needs to undergo “gavage,” or force-feeding, so she can exhibit the kind of avoirdupois considered attractive in brides. That means her mother will make her eat and drink as much as 10 times a day, even waking her up at night to ensure she packs on the pounds. Periodically, a local man, Sidi (Sidi Mohamed Chighaly), arrives with his scale to weigh her and report on her progress, but she’s not gaining as much as her mother wants.

At home, Verida is self-contained and obedient, so it’s a nice contrast to see her more relaxed with two female friends, including Amal (Amal Saab Bouh Oumar), a contemporary with a taste for French pop culture magazines and literature (she’s reading “Bonjour tristesse”) who advises her that if she doesn’t like her new husband, she can easily divorce him after a few months. While Verida is the dutiful daughter, accepting traditions handed down within the family, Amal, who yet wears a hijab, is the more free-spirited friend who plans on studying abroad. There’s a telling scene in which they go to a beauty supply shop and Amal tells Verida she’ll stop using skin-lightening cremes if Verida stops the gavage; though independent-minded, even Amal is subject to the pressures of what culturally constitutes beauty, including racist ideas of skin tone.

As the weeks of forced feeding continue, Verida becomes tired and moody, increasingly exasperated with the endless meals and bowls of milk. Unbalanced by the forced feeding and uncertain about her upcoming marriage, she agrees to go on a date of sorts with Sidi, though both know there’s no future possible for them. Even so, his interest in who she is now, rather than as a fattened commodity, makes her feel good about herself.

To avoid a sense that the relationship between mother and daughter is entirely antagonistic, Occhipinti includes a nice moment when Verida asks her mother what she was like at her age. It’s a welcome change, yet the director misses the opportunity to develop the strand — the conversation is too short. The script also could have been improved with a bit more understanding afforded the mother and grandmother, the latter of which runs a beauty salon. It seems that Occhipinti isn’t quite sure how to end the film either, resorting to a poetic ambiguity that looks nice but does nothing to further our understanding of character.

Although not a professional actor, Deiche has a natural ease on screen, perhaps because she’s playing a role partly taken from her own life story. She’s unfazed by the proximity of Daria D’Antonio’s inquisitive camera, with its pleasure-giving interest in objects, texture and color contrasts like white milk in black bowls. “Flesh Out” is a beautiful film to watch, its mise-en-scene carefully constructed: For example, Verida’s father, a peripatetic figure in the home, is generally relegated to the margins of the frame, or his face is partly turned away to make him an even more peripheral character. It’s hard to know quite why Occhipinti uses the song “Ring of Fire” twice — either she wants to make sure no one thinks she’s anything other than a (perceptive) Westerner making a movie in Africa, or she falls into that indie film trap where American songs are incongruously used to lend a comfortable vibe to the hip art-house crowd. Either way, its foreignness feels out of synch with the picture.

Berlin Film Review: 'Flesh Out'

Reviewed at Sala Anec, Rome, Feb. 4, 2019. (In Berlin Film Festival — Panorama). Running time: 93 MIN. (Original title: ‘Il corpo della sposa”)

Production: (Italy) A Lucky Red release of a Vivo Film production, with Rai Cinema, in collaboration with Films Boutique, KMBO. (International sales: Films Boutique, Berlin.) Producers: Marta Donzelli, Gregorio Paonessa. Executive producers: Alex Braga, Alessio Lazzareschi.

Crew: Director: Michela Occhipinti. Screenplay: Occhipinti, Simona Coppini. Camera (color): Daria D’Antonio. Editor: Cristiano Travaglioli. Music: Alex Braga.

With: Verida Beitta Ahmed Deiche, Amal Saab Bouh OumarAichetou Abdallahi Najim, Sidi Mohamed Chighaly. (Hassaniyya, French dialogue)

More Film

  • Stan Lee, left, and Keya Morgan

    Stan Lee's Former Business Manager Arrested on Elder Abuse Charges

    Stan Lee’s former business manager, Keya Morgan, was arrested in Arizona Saturday morning on an outstanding warrant from the Los Angeles Police Department. The LAPD’s Mike Lopez confirmed that the arrest warrant was for the following charges: one count of false imprisonment – elder adult; three counts of grand theft from elder or dependent adult, [...]

  • Moby attends the LA premiere of

    Moby Apologizes to Natalie Portman Over Book Controversy

    Moby has issued an apology of sorts after writing in his recently published memoir “Then It Fell Apart” that he dated Natalie Portman when she was 20 — a claim the actress refuted. “As some time has passed I’ve realized that many of the criticisms leveled at me regarding my inclusion of Natalie in Then [...]

  • Bong Joon-ho reacts after winning the

    Bong Joon-ho's 'Parasite' Wins the Palme d'Or at Cannes

    CANNES — The 72nd edition of the Cannes Film Festival wrapped with jury president Alejandro González Iñárritu announcing the group’s unanimous decision to award the Palme d’Or to South Korean director Bong Joon-ho for his sly, politically charged “Parasite.” Following last year’s win for humanistic Japanese drama “Shoplifters,” the well-reviewed Asian thriller represents the yin [...]

  • Invisible Life Brazilian Cinema

    Cannes Film Review: 'The Invisible Life of Eurídice Gusmão'

    A “tropical melodrama” is how the marketing materials bill “The Invisible Life of Eurídice Gusmão.” If that sounds about the most high-camp subgenre ever devised, Karim Aïnouz’s ravishing period saga lives up to the description — high emotion articulated with utmost sincerity and heady stylistic excess, all in the perspiring environs of midcentury Rio de [...]

  • Best Movies of Cannes 2019

    The 10 Best Movies of Cannes 2019

    The Cannes Film Festival is too rich an event to truly have an “off” year, but by the end of the 72nd edition, it was more or less universally acknowledged that the festival had regained a full-on, holy-moutaintop-of-art luster that was a bit lacking the year before. It helps, of course, to have headline-making movies [...]

  • Aladdin

    'Aladdin' Soaring to $100 Million-Plus Memorial Day Weekend Debut

    Disney’s live-action “Aladdin” remake is on its way to a commendable Memorial Day weekend debut with an estimated $109 million over the four-day period. The musical fantasy starring Will Smith and Mena Massoud should uncover about $87 million in its first three days from 4,476 North American theaters after taking in $31 million on Friday. [...]

  • 180423_A24_Day_03B_0897.jpg

    Robert Pattinson, Willem Dafoe's The Lighthouse' Wins Cannes Critics' Award

    Robert Eggers’ “The Lighthouse,” with Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson, won the Cannes Film Festival critics’ award for best first or second feature in Directors’ Fortnight and Critics’ Week, one of the first prizes for which “The Lighthouse” has been eligible at Cannes. The award was announced Saturday in Cannes by the Intl. Federation of [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content