Nude Area is a wordless film about a flirtation between two women that nearly becomes a romance.
No More Words
It’s not the first film to attempt to go without dialogue, and it is more successful than some. Because there is no dialogue, Nude Area suggests dance. Gesture, position, and gaze do all the communicating.
Most scenes play with more depth without words — glances on a subway or in a locker room. Even when alone and up-close, words are not needed. But there are times where the rule seems unnatural. When two people are in a room, one ironing, it seems weird that they are not making small talk.
Another awkward choice is the inclusion of title cards between segments. They all start with the letter L (a sensual choice, but I keep hearing L.L. Cool J launching into his alliterated list of lyrics). “Love,” “Languor,” and “Listless” feel like helpful suggestions from an uncertain filmmaker. The title cards do make the movie smaller, offered in easier to digest, shorter segments. But I wonder if they were necessary. If it’s any consolation, writer/director Urszula Antoniak needn’t have worried.
Girl Meets Girl
Somewhere in Europe, a woman is making eyes at another woman on a subway. There are no names. I thought of them as the woman with the headscarf (darker skin, full hair, full lips) and the European-looking young woman (short dark hair, slender, stylish).
Antoniak and editor Milenia Fiedler wisely establish some structure to help guide us. There are repeated patterns, for example, of subway, then platform, then white-brick housing project. These shots show our Eurochick following her Headscarf quarry away from the train, trying to learn more about her, and they establish a rhythm.
The women go to the same gym. A scented letter left in Eurochick’s locker contains a love poem. Because she got the letter, we can infer that the two women are mutually attracted. But there was some doubt in my mind whether the feeling really is mutual, or whether Eurochick’s fantasies filled in some of the gaps. After all, the film opened with a quote about passing being the territory of the lover, and not the object of one’s love.
Also, the film highlights the differences between the women. There’s the obvious difference in background — a darker-skinned woman wearing a headscarf suggests either a migrant, or at least the descendant of migrants.
There is also a suggestion of class — Eurochick lives (unbelievably) adjacent to a park, with (unbelievably) many books in her house. If so many books are meant to convey a greater wealth of history and culture, then that’s a shallow view; but I suspect they are meant simply to convey greater wealth. In contrast, Headscarf lives in a high-density housing project.
The distinction is made uncomfortably explicit, later, in the segment called “Leisure.” Eurochick is sitting at a table, alone, in a restaurant where Headscarf works as a server. Eurochick does something rude and demeaning, and at that point it becomes not just about class but also about politics.
Yes, Nude Area is a lesbian fantasy. There are artful shots of water running off of skin in slow motion. There are women crowded in showers. If you’re the type to keep score, it’s mostly abstract skin, with breasts not uncommon. There are no men involved.
Skeptics might wonder if the film has a “male gaze.” I think not. First, a woman directed the film. And when there is a sexually motivated gaze, it comes from the characters — in particular the European woman. Nude Area is no Blue is the Warmest Color. It’s about the poetry of skin and water, not the prose of sex.
But I do wonder what was intended by using “Nude” in the title. What exactly was Antoniak trying to evoke? Sensuality? Sexuality? Primitiveness? I don’t think the filmmaker considered the other possibilities.
In this case, “nude” ends up meaning what most moviegoers would expect — sensual, with an undertone of eroticism.