FILM REVIEW: No Body’s Perfect

I feel it is unfair not to state that I chose to watch this film for a few reasons that may differ from the average Netflix user.  I have lived with a series of chronic conditions which began at birth, and have occasionally been linked or discussed as linked to medical treatment and conditions of my mother.  I have an extreme interest in medical anomalies and medical experimentation (though I do have a healthy understanding of ethics, thank you).  I am active in disability advocacy and support, and regularly engage with people with physical, mental or psychological disabilities.

No Body’s Perfect is a 2008 documentary examining filmmaker Niko von Glasow’s journey as a thalidomider (a person disabled by the medication thalidomide during neonatal development) coming to terms with his deformity and the events that led to his disability.  The film examines a naked art turned calendar project which brings together a dozen fellow thalidomiders from Germany and Great Britain who face the world, and their disability, differently.

What I found most compelling about this film was not the fact these people, who are often living with significant deformities to the limbs, are trying to live the most normal life possible, but how wildly different their experiences with their mothers were.  I don’t think von Glasow intended to deeply examine this aspect: the affect of the guilt of a mother, knowing she had caused this severe detriment to her children.  The questions he asked, which lead to this sub-discussion were aimed at a larger understanding of the causation an attempt to bring into discussion the role of the medications developer and manufacture in this crime against unborn children, and that is discussed, to some success.  However it is the personalized “effect / affect” anecdotes that really stand out.

One thalidomider describes how a single dose given by a surprised expectant-young-father to calm a panicked expectant-teen-mother (the drug was widely used as a “safe” sedative and anti-anxiety medication) was the only dose ever taken; then he delves into the guilt lived out by both families- not only surrounding an illegitimate child in a religious community, but raising a child that had been so horrifically injured in utero (or damned by God- depending on your viewpoint).

Regardless of intention, von Glasow opens this idea of women unintentionally causing harm and having to raise these now disabled children, and weaves it through the documentary, past his bits about medical malpractice, deformity as art (and a side conversation about art for profit), a personal discovery of self acceptance, and parenting as a person with a disability.   Really the director may be too close to the subject- with his own disability so consuming to his everyday life and thoughts, von Glosgow is hardly an informed or investigatory outsider, and it is evident as the film jumps from subject to subject and bounces between topics both in interviews and narrative.

Ultimately, I think No Body’s Perfect is a great place to start a discussion.  A fine exploratory film delving into the lives of European disabled of a specific era and a specific event, the film examines so many topics it might be great to show a classroom and ask for papers on expanded topics of interest (after all there are many many controversies and discussions that could be explored more in depth).   The film also highlights a continued issue with corporate social responsibility especially in the medical community, which is an interesting twist not often seen in these types of films (generally everyone has long ago settled with the companies involved).  However, no matter how many discussions are opened by this film, none are closed, leaving the viewer to wonder what, if any, point there was.

Vital Stats

No Body’s Perfect (film, 1 hr, 14 min)
Directed by: Niko von Glasow
Produced By: Palladio Film
Released: September 2008
Genre: Documentary Film
Source: Netflix (personal subscription)

Rating: B+

Pros: Examines the many aspects of disability by interviewing a diverse group of people with the same  disorder.  Uses these interviews to illuminate many facets of disability, art, and the medical establishment.
Cons:  The film lacks focus, and may be too close to the directors heart, resulting in a scattered presentation and lost overall message.   Discussions may not be appropriate for all audiences, and may be disturbing to some, especially pregnant women.
Final Recommendations:  I think this film is worth the watch, if you are interested in medical issues, both physically and philosophically.  It can be a little whiny at time, and often rambles, but if the idea is to start here, and explore more- this is a great.

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