The first feature from director Laura Samani, Small Body tells the story of Agata (Celeste Cescutti), a woman living in a small fishing community who gives birth to a stillborn child. Deeply upset by the prospect of her daughter’s soul being condemned to the eternal nothingness of Limbo, Agata leaves her home and heads north in search of a mysterious sanctuary that can allegedly revive stillborn babies for a single breath – just enough time to be baptised.
The mother’s solemn journey has something of the fable about it, with its very clear set pieces and thematic consistency tying the film to older storytelling traditions. The scripting is smart and engaging, facilitating very compelling character arcs that tie into the overarching motifs and further imbue the result with a folkloric tone. Themes include explorations of faith, identity and female camaraderie, which are thoroughly examined throughout the story in a number of different and intriguing ways.
The cinematography gives each scene its own distinct visual identity, allowing the natural backdrops plenty of space to showcase their beauty in ways that also intensify the feelings of isolation on Agata’s journey. The sound design also works well to increase the tension and loneliness of the piece, emphasising the sounds of the environment and featuring a score heavy with a cappella singing to further instil an unsettling atmosphere.
With the narrative being so focused on Agata’s journey, and with such a stark tone, the character dynamics between the protagonist and the people she meets are important to help the beats land effectively. Thankfully, the cast delivers some very strong performances, capturing the complexity of the script’s subject matter emotively and effectively. In particular, the dynamic between Agata and her companion Lynx (Ondina Quadri) is very endearing, and the two actresses have great chemistry.
Small Body is about avoiding limbo, but is steeped thoroughly in a kind of limbo itself: set in the 1900s, the world is stuck between tradition and progress, Agata is trapped between the familiar and the unfamiliar, and Lynx exists between the life he once knew and the life he has carved out for himself. The film does a fantastic job at navigating this uncertain liminal space to deliver an often upsetting but profoundly interesting and moving tale.
Small Body does not have a UK release date yet.
Read more reviews and interviews from our London Film Festival 2021 coverage here.
For further information about the festival visit the official BFI website here.
Watch the trailer for Small Body here: