VIFF 2014 Review: New Boobs

New Boobs is a documentary by Dutch film director Sacha Polak pursuing a revolutionary breast operation that isn't simply cosmetic. It's to prolong her life.

New Boobs is a documentary by Dutch film director Sacha Polak pursuing a unique breast operation that isn’t simply cosmetic. It’s to prolong her life.

At first when you hear the title New Boobs, you’ll think it’s about trying to conform to an idealized body types. However you shouldn’t misjudge it as such. It’s a lot more than that.

This is an autobiographical documentary by Dutch film maker Sacha Polak. Not even 30, Sacha has established herself as a rising director in the Netherlands with numerous shorts and films to her credit including one film, Hemel, which won her a FIPRESCI Prize at the 2012 Berlin Film Festival. However not even 30, she’s also hindered by a health problem of her own. Her mother died of breast cancer at the age of 29 just months after Sacha was born. Sacha goes for gene testing if she possesses the BRCA1 gene. The gene poses as a huge threat to contracting breast cancer before the age of 40 and increases the threat of ovarian cancer by 40-60%. She gets the doctor’s results. It’s a positive.

There are a lot of things running through Sacha’s mind upon hearing the news. First is how long she’ll live. Second is whether she’ll be able to have a child with her boyfriend before she gets her ovaries removed: something she wants to do before she turns 35. Third is about her next production. However the one that stands out is what to have done with her breasts. Removal of both? Surgery with implants? An operation will greatly improve her odds of avoiding breast cancer. She goes to one plastic surgeon and learns of the implants that would be used in their operation. However she soon hears of a plastic surgeon in Ghent, Belgium who performs a unique breast operation that would involve removing the breast tissue and filling it with body fat. That operation becomes Sacha’s focus.

Things are frustrating as the surgeon moves her consulting from November to March. Finally she does have the consultation and she learns of the surgery and what it entails. She agrees to it. During the waiting time she tries to conduct her life as usual doing filmwork and keeping the relationship with her boyfriend intact. She eventually does have the first operation. She shows the outcome and talks over time how she’s felt about it and how others including her boyfriend have felt about it. She then has her second operation and is happy with the end result. The film ends with her talking about her thoughts on the future, about her next film, about having a child in time. However she’s happy that she has solved one problem in the meantime.

The film wasn’t strictly about a cosmetic operation. It was also about a woman fearing for her health and hoping that this operation that would prolong her life will come out well in the end. It’s also about the mother she never knew. Frequently the film shows images of her mother and even the book her mother wrote to Sacha before she died. It’s also about family relations such as the support she receives from her boyfriend that isn’t immune to friction. Even the fears from both her father and her stepmother are showcased. The father himself is especially concerned as his wife just fell ill, entered the hospital and died. It still upsets him to this day and it especially bears down on him sensing that it could happen to Sacha. This documentary is as much about the human factor as it is about the medical factor.

The theme about being born with a bad gene is very present in the movie. This was definitely a theme that would stick in a lot of audient’s heads especially after they had just seen a documentary short of a close friend of Jason Ritter and Bryce Dallas Howard learn of her positive diagnosis for a Huntington’s gene. After seeing that short before, we’re reminded of the hard luck and the physical threats people that have genes that make them prone to certain illnesses face.

This documentary is not meant for the big screen. This is mostly filmed with minor technical cameras and even Skype footage. This is a documentary that’s more meant for broadcast on a television channel like BC’s Knowledge network.

New Boobs is an intriguing documentary that is more than just about an operation. It’s about dealing with illness-prone genes and even family relations surrounding it. A reminder that the person doesn’t fight this alone.

NOTE: For those interested in Sacha’s next film, she had just finished filming Zurich and is due for release in the Netherlands in February 2015.

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