Human Flowers of Flesh ★★★ New York Film Festival 2022

Human Flowers of Flesh ★★★ New York Film Festival 2022

Like an artist painting a picture leisurely yet with a strong purpose, Helena Wittmann’s Human Flowers of Flesh never hurries itself while it absorbs you with its gorgeous textures.

Ida lives on a sailing yacht with a crew of five men. While on shore leave in Marseilles, she becomes fascinated with the French Foreign Legion and decides to sail to Sidi Bel Abbès, the Legion’s former headquarters in Algeria.

Wittmann takes on multiple roles in her second film with everything having a looseness to it that separately would be an annoyance, yet together causes you to seriously sit and reflect. For example shots are never set how you would expect, just that touch off. Shots run for an age as she presents her audience with shots of the water. Be it swimming pools, waves or the sea we are left to sit and watch, to think about what we are seeing.

It is these textures with the sparse dialogue that intrigues you, as if she is trying to push us into a daze as she hypnotically paints her picture. For some Human Flowers of Flesh will feel that way, yet for some it will be a mind numbing drag. Points are raised, but never furthered upon enough due to Wittmann’s narrative choice and as such you may quite easily struggle.

The curiosity within the characters and our director are the films successes, you just wish there was a touch more time in that world and group, to find out more about them instead of being put at an arm’s length. As said though, she has a direct purpose to her methods here and has as clear a picture of what she wants from her film. It just so happens that it all takes place in an endlessly slow film, where little moments push the film along.

At times it truly feels as if we are witnessing an 100 minute art experiment. Whether any of that works for you is another question, at times it does and you realise the film has you in its grasp, however, it continues to keep going down that route and as such that grasp begins to loosen like a knot that just wasn’t tied tightly enough. A snail slowly moving its way to slightly rotting fruit before being plucked off camera are moments in Human Flowers of Flesh are par for the course here and makes her idea of looking all the more integral to its success.


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