What does an artist who makes art about the body do when she’s diagnosed with cancer? Make art about it, of course. In the stirring documentary “Serendipity,” French artist Prune Nourry discovers that her illness makes her art that much more poignant and potent, and creating art becomes an important part of her healing process, too.
As the director, Nourry opens the film with a point-of-view shot as she’s being wheeled into a hospital operating room, but her moments in the ward are some of the quietest and most meditative. It’s when she’s grappling with her diagnosis and its ramifications intellectually, artistically, emotionally and mentally that Nourry, and the film, come alive. Agnès Varda, that emblem of French cinematic feminine identity, even helps Nourry chop off her long braid.
“Serendipity” serves as a retrospective of sorts for Nourry’s career, as she looks at the ways that her cancer casts a new light on her past work. While she’s freezing her eggs in advance of chemotherapy, she reflects on her pieces about fertility (“Procreative Dinner” and “Spermbar”) and the role of women in different cultures (“Holy Daughter” and “Terracotta Daughters”). While facing death, she becomes taken with creation, urgently working to finish pieces as she envisioned them. As doctors sculpt her body, she too sculpts feminine forms. Though the narrative often lags or stops outright to revel in Nourry’s art, when the film dives into her struggles with identity in relationship to cancer through art, it’s fascinating, and very emotional.
Running time: 1 hour, 15 minutes
Playing: Starts Oct. 18, Laemmle Royal, West Los Angeles