Flesh (Carne) is a Brazilian animated documentary directed by Camila Kater in 2019. Flesh follows the story of five women in different phases of life as they speak about their ambiguous relationship with their own bodies, as well as their experiences with societal pressure and society’s perception of them. The stories are formatted in a linear fashion and are organized into five distinct chapters, each corresponding to a stage of meat roasting: rare, medium-rare, medium, well, and well done. The film utilizes a variety of techniques such as stop motion, clay, drawing, and scratch on film footage in order to complement the variety of topics ranging from dieting, menstruation, menopause, and aging covered within each chapter. This post explores how Camila Kater utilizes form, theme, and the extended metaphor of comparing different stages of life to the stages of meat roasting to advocate for diverse representation in animated media.
Each chapter of Flesh highlights the story of women and their relationship with their bodies and experiences with societal pressure. The utilization of the animated documentary format to portray these stories helps create representation in the animation by providing an outlet for women to authentically showcase their emotions while reliving their personal experiences through narration. According to Debjani Mukherjee, “Documentaries [are] a genre of nonfiction filmmaking that aims to document a slice of life primarily for the purposes of historical, reference, educational material, or emotional engagement with reality and instructional video” (Mukherjee). Kater pushes the bounds of documentary cinematic traditions and filmmaking by applying animated techniques to portray each speaker’s reality through the abstraction of emotions and the recreation of memories. For example, in the third chapter, “Medium”, Raquel Virgínia speaks about her experience as a black trans woman. She talks about the pyramid of tolerance and how she must “have strict discipline for everything [she] does, for everything [she] is”, while she is depicted inside a triangle with walls collapsing upon itself. The abstraction of her emotions emphasizes the feeling of being trapped and constrained by society, illustrating how the “animated form provides the power to visualize and depict the images that are not always visible” (Mukherjee). The ability to depict emotions along with memories offers the audience a more raw and authentic illustration of the speaker’s experiences as opposed to a live-action setting where directors are given the “daunting task of creating an aesthetic narrative from the daily lives of the protagonist” and “recreating an authentic representation of ‘reality’ within the rectangular frame of the film” (Mukherjee). The format depicts reality by showcasing what is believed to be in the protagonist’s mind as opposed to recreating an environment based on the protagonist’s experiences. This facilitates diverse representation by bringing awareness to those who are not a part of the community of the prejudice and pressures that are placed on women while providing those within that community content that they can relate to and empathize with.
In addition to the animated documentary format, Kater utilizes different forms of animation to portray each narrative and create diverse representations. While discussing the visual development of the documentary, Kater explains that the film was intended to be made as a 2D digital animation, but after conducting interviews she felt that the use of “different mediums would empower the diversity of the protagonists and create a sensorial synchrony between the plastic form of animation and the stories themselves” (Dudok de Wit). The synchrony between story and form is shown throughout the film as each technique used corresponds with the theme being discussed. For instance, in the first chapter, Kater utilizes stop motion to depict diet culture. The intentional manipulation of objects to create movement in stop motion parallels the theme of diets discussed in the first chapter, as the protagonist explains that being put on a diet meant that her food would be meticulously regulated at home. The controlled movement of stop motion reiterates the controlled nature her mother has over food but also affirms the feelings of discomfort felt by the protagonist. The same synchrony can be seen throughout the film within the second chapter which touches upon the theme of menstruation and puberty. Here watercolor is utilized to “represent this fluid stage and blood” (Dudok de Wit). Another example is the fourth chapter which discusses menopause, “another strong phase where the body is facing deep changes” (Dudok de Wit). Here, clay animation is used in order to illustrate the malleability or mobility female bodies experience as they continue to age. The incorporation of multiple animated techniques highlights the idea that the relationship with one’s body is unique and that “race, sexual orientation, gender identity, and profession can generate different experiences” (Kater 0:34 – 0:39).
The variation of animated techniques also lends its way to discussing several themes regarding societal pressure and prejudices that are placed on women. This can be seen in the first chapter, “Rare”, narrated by Rachel Patrício who is an activist against fatphobia in Brazil. The chapter utilizes stop motion to discuss diet culture and the impact it has on young girls’ perception of their own bodies as they grow older. In Patrício’s dialogue, she talks about the remarks her mom made concerning her weight and how that changed the way she viewed her body creating the notion that her weight was a problem. This is seen through her mom’s remark “I really wanted to have a daughter who I could buy clothing for, but I don’t,” in which Patrício commented, “She wanted a doll to decorate, but I had never been a doll. Neither in size nor in personality” (Kater 1:53 – 1:58). While narrating this line, Kater animates a closet opening to display multiple dresses which then moves out of frame to showcase a doll. The depiction of a lifeless doll and its outfits can be interpreted as a statement regarding women’s appearances in society, where there is pressure to not only maintain a slim frame but to dress in a way that is favored. In addition to this, Patrício’s dialogue also discusses her experience at school where she was able to outrun the other students in the class. She emphasizes how her teacher’s statement “we can’t be good at everything” allowed her to break from societal expectations and accept her body as it is. Discussing topics such as these can help create representation in the media by acknowledging the societal pressures that are placed on women, and how young girls can find resolve in their relationship with their own body image.
Kater also makes use of an extended metaphor that compares the different stages of grilled meat to the different stages of life ranging from childhood to old age. The repetition of the meat cooking motif helps create an overall sense of cohesion amongst chapters and reinforces a linear structure. Furthermore, the extended metaphor also examines the relationship women have with their bodies and how this evolves as they age. Chapter one, “Rare”, addresses childhood experiences where the female body has yet to undergo physical changes; whereas chapter two, “Medium Rare”, talks about puberty and how in that stage of life the female body is beginning to change. The comparison of the physical changes seen in the female body through the stages of life to the slicing of meat can also illustrate the impacts of societal taboos on the female body about which Kater explained: “I felt like a body instead of a human being” (Mayorga).
Kater utilizes form, theme, and an extended metaphor to celebrate and explore femininity through different stages of life, and to dissect and examine the taboos associated with the female body. This facilitates diverse representation in media by creating an outlet for women to speak freely about their own experiences and creates content for women from different backgrounds and experiences to resonate with and seek comfort in.
Dudok de Wit, Alex. “How They Did It: Telling Five Women’s Stories in Five Different Styles In Camila Kater’s ‘Flesh.’” Cartoon Brew, 31 January 2020, https://www.cartoonbrew.com/how-to/how-they-did-it-telling-five-womens-stories-in-five-different-styles-in-camila-katers-flesh-185445.html. Accessed 29 March 2022.
Kater, Camila. “Carne // Camila Kater .” Youtube, Annecyfestival, 15 June 2020, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RQVXInhmFmc.
Kater, Camila. Carne [Flesh]. Performances by Rachel Patricio, et al., 2019. The New York Times, https://www.nytimes.com/video/opinion/100000007491017/carne.html.
Mayorga, Emilio. “Brazilian Animator Camila Kater Confronts Female Aging In Debut ‘Carne.’” Variety, 20 June 2020, https://variety.com/2020/film/global/camila-kater-qa-carne-annecy-shorts-entry-1234643446/. Accessed 3 May 2022.
Mukherjee, Debjani. “Animated Documentary as a Social Tool.” Animation Studies, 26 December 2020, https://journal.animationstudies.org/debjani-mukherjee-animated-documentary-as-a-social-tool/. Accessed 3 5 2022.
Tiffany San is a student at the University of Texas at Dallas currently pursuing her Bachelor’s degree in Arts Technology and Emerging Communication with a concentration in Animation and Games.
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