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American Women's Club of Hamburg


Three films: My Skinny Sister, Body and Lunch Confront the Issues with Eating Disorders

When we look around us, we see many individuals who are suffering from a growing phenomenon. Due to our society’s concentration on a certain commercialized look of superficial skinniness in advertising models, our youth are caught up in a web which is sending them the wrong message. How many families have to deal with eating disorders? Both anorexia and bulimia are on the rise. It is said that one out of every five women is fighting with a self-image problem. If someone is suffering from one of these disorders, it can become serious enough, even chronic, and not only can erode the mental and physical health but can cause death without proper treatment.
Director Sanna Lenken from Sweden has taken a brave step in expressing her personal story on screen. It started with the short film Lunch which came out in 2013 which gives us an inside view of  an eating disorder treatment center where a group of young teenagers are sitting at a table struggling to eat a minimal amount of food measured in grams in order to be successful for that meal. It is heart breaking to watch them since it is something that should be automatic but for whatever reason there is an invisible wall between them and their plates of food.
This year she has even become more daring and brought to the Generation Kplus category, My Skinny Sister which won the Crystal Bear. Since she herself had personally overcome this disease she thought it was important to make people recognize the symptoms and show how serious the disease can be. Having lived through this situation, Lenken gives us an up-close and intimate view of the complexities of this disorder. Stella (Rebecka Josephson) and her sister Katya (Amy Deasismont) love each other and are two very different people. Katya who is a talented ice skater and busy with school somehow falls into this serious eating disorder anorexia and when Stella discovers that, her sister becomes mean and manipulative in a way that Stella cannot inform her parents what’s going on. In short, Lenken gave us some insights in this interview and shares the emotional struggles she had in making this film and how going through this process extended her abilities to create a safe environment for her actors.  

Shelly Schoeneshoefer:
How did you pick the girls?
Sanna Lenken:  
It was a long casting process and we were thinking a lot about this eating disorder.  Did we need to have a girl with her own experience? But the crucial thing about this sickness is, you can so easily drop back into this sickness again so we decided to go for both girls just being good actresses and being able to feel for one another such as having fear for the older sister but not being able to tell their parents. We were so lucky because we found this girl one month before the shooting. The little girl who played Stella, who was only eleven years old, did not understand what an eating disorder was so we had to have her read the script first, then I described the sickness to her and finally she talked to her mother and father about it. I didn’t talk so deeply with her because she is a child and this sickness is very much in your head. So as a director I made them into sisters since I have a love-hate relationship with my sister. To be able to show this intimate connection at such a young age was amazing and she showed such emotion in every shot.
SRS:  Do you feel it is increasing in society? It seems to be growing in the world don’t you think?
SL:  I would ban all advertisement and top model shows. By the way these shows are no longer being showed in Sweden.  Ask the people around you and there are so many people who have this experience or know someone with this sickness. There are women who have had bulimia for years. It is a secret that you just don’t see.
SRS:  Since it is a psychological sickness, is it catching or rather contagious?
SL:  Oh yes. I had it; then the girl down the street started having problems and so on… until it is a whole group of girls. What was really shocking was when I was really skinny and very sick people would come up to me and say how beautiful I was. They couldn’t see in my eyes and that my skin and hair were no longer healthy. Amy had to go through the process.  She has a lot of fear or pressure. It is difficult for a woman; we are supposed to be sexy, smart, and perfect and respected, all at the same time. Who should I be as a woman? What is the role of the woman? Do I have to be a sexy person or the boss? There is a gap. I wanted to explore and expose that gap.
Parents are playing in the dynamic. The youngest daughter has a heavy topic on her shoulders.  Maybe she will ruin the family or be blamed. They don’t pay attention because they are working so much. I wanted to force the issue.  Why should there be so much pressure on young women?
SRS:  Do you want this film to go to schools?
SL:  I wanted people to share experience. To be more aware of it and I have already shown it in schools.
My next project will be motherhood. No kids. What are women in their gender roles? It was hard to work with kids. Rebecca was great but there was a lot of pressure with kids. They are only allowed to work seven hours and it is a lot of responsibility to keep them safe. Sometimes I looked at them and I was sad. There is something all girls have to face and that is these false idols.  They need to have support.

In the Polish film Body director Malgorzata Szumowska approaches the issues in a completely different way. The film opens with Janusz (Janusz Gajos) who is a coroner working with dead bodies at crime scenes every day.  He seems to be a man who can take on anything until we see him at home and realize how out of place he is in his own home.
His daughter Olga (Justyna Suwala) who suffers from bulimia is still grieving for her dead mother and blames him for what happened. He takes action and puts her in a clinic where Anna is a therapist (Maja Ostaszewska) and has a gift. She see spirits and can heal people by bringing them closer to their loved ones.
Director Malgorzata Szumowska could not tackle the same subject of anorexia in the way as Sanna Lenken did. Perhaps she didn’t have a personal story to tell. Szumowska said at the press conference that she started out by wanting to do a film on anorexia but found it too brutal and that the audience may not understand it. So they started to think about the body as a subject and the different relationships to the body.  She laughed and said, ”Well the daughter started off with anorexia but in the film she was bulimic. The father had contact to the dead which was a physical contact and a woman who is searching for souls but doesn’t care about the physical body.  
The film maybe should be called Body and Soul.  It is a risky subject but it also represents the key to open the body and the soul. It is nevertheless important to pay homage to our bodies and souls. We need to find our roles and respect ourselves in order to go on with who we are in a healthy way and then we can connect to others.”

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