Hot Docs Review: 'Bile' Is a Dismal but Essential Watch on the Subject of Death Directed by Ira A. Goryainova
Published Jun 18, 2020What does an illness look like? Ira A. Goryainova's Bile takes viewers to the uncomfortable cross section between disease and war for a closer look at the way cancers present in humanity. Using post-Soviet Russia and her mother's stage 4 cervical cancer diagnosis and eventual death as a metaphorical starting point, the director examines our relationship to our own corporeality in gory detail. It is equal parts disturbing, graphic and melancholic.
Through a mix of medical archives and personal footage, interpretive dance choreography and real-life documentation, Goryainova deftly weaves the physicality of death and illness with the understanding that the notion of health presents not only as the absence of disease, but by including individual happiness.
In humorism, an ancient Greek and Roman system of medicine, melancholy is presented in black bile secreted by the spleen. Those who embody black bile are seen as fearful, lazy — harbingers of their own fate. Goryainova's own medical state — presenting as gastrointestinal upset, bile, stones — comes under close examination in her work, as the stress and sadness she endures from witnessing her mother's illness become the villains of her own demise.
The director aims to show the ways we pass the blame of illness (be it war or disease) onto the inflicted. It's political in its message, but offers no course of action — only observation. Using family movies as the happy backdrop for devastation, Goryainova attempts to distort our relationship with death in the form of this gloomy visual essay, which is accompanied by an expertly composed, foreboding score by hypnoskull.
Near its conclusion, her collage brings together the sound of a blackened, gushing river, as its ashened flow drowns out the sounds of a horrified wailing chorus. It's here that she intersects the pain of death with the tiniest ounce of catharsis. It offers very little in the way of relief; rather it frees the viewer from the sustained human suffering presented in the film.
Though it is a dismal watch, Goryainnova's Bile is an essential perspective on the realities of living and our relationship to death. It is free from optimism about the darkness of dying; it is fully engrossed in the blackness of pain. No afterlife is suggested. Rather, in the absence of life, there is only the reprieve from misery.
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