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'Breastmilk' an intimate chronicle of women's, experts' views

@latimes Review: 'Breastmilk' an intimate chronicle of women's and experts' views
In 'Breastmilk' documentary, women's experiences speak for themselves

Like all ideas that become social imperatives, the "breast is best" mandate of recent decades — the assertion that breast-feeding is superior to the bottle — isn't true for everyone. Director Dana Ben-Ari never argues the point in the documentary "Breastmilk," instead letting women's experiences speak for themselves.

The first-time filmmaker follows five New Yorkers, a cross section of ages and incomes, from late in their pregnancy through the first year of motherhood. She spikes their discerning, often anxiety-filled comments with provocative observations from experts and other parents, including same-sex couples.

The subject's appeal is decidedly limited, but the intimate chronicle is no one-note celebration of the goddess. Ben-Ari embraces real-life complexities and elemental questions about gender roles, mother-child bonding and female sexuality (lactation pornography gets a shout-out).

She reveals not just the sublime moment when a nursing newborn's gaze fixes on its mother's face, but how pressure to do the natural thing can give rise to new categories of maternal guilt and feelings of inadequacy. With a 2014 Ohio State study of siblings showing no significant long-term health advantages for breast-fed children by the time they reach ages 4 to 14, the orthodoxy surrounding breast-feeding might be loosening. Our "ridiculously competitive" supermom culture, as a health worker in the film describes it, is another matter.

There are "Portlandia"-worthy moments amid the talk of breast pumps, latching and engorgement, and also surprising insights with implications beyond the nursery. Playfully artsy close-ups of squirting nipples might be as off-putting to some viewers as the participants' earnest testimony will be to others. Either way, audiences will find themselves face to face with their own prejudices, assumptions and, perhaps, squeamishness.

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"Breastmilk."

MPAA rating: None.

Running time: 1 hour, 31 minutes.

Playing: At Laemmle's Monica 4-Plex, Santa Monica.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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