“Vinegar Baths” is a Chinese short film by Amanda Nell Eu, it explores the complicated relationship a woman has with her own body. In the film, an overworked nurse in a maternity ward consistently eats throughout the day and into the night, trying to find a balance between mind and body.
Thematically the film holds cultural significance, enrobed in the body positivity movement and the general stifling pressure females feel to be thin.
Interwoven into the plot are symbolic images and characterization including a severed head signifying a woman in a desperate attempt to free herself from her own physique. In its own unique and bizarre way, this film is relatable and I even saw myself in the character. I, like many women, have consistently struggled with body image issues my whole life.
No matter how thin I am, either my own brain or society tells me there’s always something I can improve upon. The film even made me think of plastic surgery, a field largely dominated by men, with most of the elective offerings geared towards reforming women’s bodies in an attempt to squeeze us into perfection.
One poignant image was of the nurse is watching and mimicking the “ideal” woman dancing on her Instagram feed, the scene felt similar to the daily struggles many women face. In the airbrushed Instagram model culture we live in, women tend to compare themselves to a non-existent ideal, always finding someone else’s body more perfect than our own.
There is gorgeous production design, sound mixing, and color work throughout the piece. Fine attention to details and a luminous, glossy color grade really added to the artistry and gave it a feminine airbrush. The camera work was incredibly significant and took on its own character. The film had a fish eye lens effect in the sense that it was disconnected from the subject, it reminded of “Being John Malkovich” (1999) where we see the character’s world through a practical viewfinder.
One thing I had hoped to see more of was the backstory of the nurse and how she became so involved in loathing her own body, I suppose the maternity ward was meant to signify her issues stemming from birth, but I think understanding more of where she was coming from would have made it a bit more well rounded story wise.
All in all, “Vinegar Baths” was a joy to watch and a delight to see a talented female director explore important cultural issues.
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