Natasja Fourie directs candid new film for NOWNESS that rejects the glamorous myths of motherhood and places sexuality and the pregnant body in one place
South-African born filmmaker and photographer, Natasja Fourie, brings her unique aesthetic to a new series for NOWNESS that approaches the topic of motherhood from a fresh and striking angle. Provocative and beautifully shot, the first instalment of the three-part Mother Nature series, ‘Between Man and Child’, marks a complete visual and thematic departure from traditionally idealised representations of motherhood. NOWNESS’ Video Commissioner, Katie Metcalfe, and self-taught director, Natasja Fourie, discuss self-identity, sexuality, and femininity, and why they felt that the conversation surrounding parenthood needed of a new voice.
LBB> What is the aim of the Mother Nature series and how did it come about?
Katie Metcalfe, Video Commissioner at NOWNESS > We approached Natasja as she has an amazing skill for capturing human vulnerability and honesty. We already loved her work and the way she embraces an uninhibited approach to her photography and film work. Funnily enough, the series actually began as a conversation around the subject of mothers for our series, The Way We Dress, and then evolved into becoming the flagship episode for a completely new series!
We created Mother Nature with the aim of artfully capturing the space between the (often polarising) existing frames of reference available for expectant and new parents. We want to tell stories that really celebrate personal instinct and the unexpected in a raw, beautiful, and playful way. Ultimately, we want to create films that spark conversation and can resonate in an honest, yet positive, way.
LBB> ‘Between Man and Child’ offers a refreshingly honest portrayal of motherhood that is seldom represented in conventional narratives of parenthood. Do you think we tend to shy away from associating sexuality with the pregnant body in film and culture?
Natasja Fourie, Director> I think there is a bit of a puritanical fear of pregnant women as sexual beings in Western culture. Cultural assumptions towards motherhood are loaded with unrealistically high expectations that are compounded by idealised and romanticised imagery. Mainstream media and advertising are saturated by images of perfect, saintly mothers, motivated by a consumerist agenda designed to manipulate us into buying products such as nappies and fabric softener. With the Mother Nature series, we wanted to create a critical space for representations of the Mother to exist outside of these stereotypical roles.
KM> We specifically wanted to tackle the notion of a woman’s shifting sense of self-identity during pregnancy and motherhood. Sexuality is naturally a major part of this changing sense of self and we aimed to capture how a woman can feel physically torn between man and child, especially in regard to the demands on her body. We wanted to shine a spotlight on this internal and external struggle. Natasja not only captured this beautifully in the piece she wrote for the film, but also filmed herself in a brilliantly honest and raw way before and after birth. With this series, we wanted to expand the conversation beyond conventional narratives of parenthood and I really think the film achieves this by detaching from perceived notions and addressing that tension in a frank and open way.
LBB> Although motherhood as a concept is celebrated by many societies, the public simultaneously convey discomfort towards non-idealised pregnant bodies. What did you have to consider when approaching this issue with film?
NF> I think that the media’s obsession with young, idealised, and highly sexualised female bodies fuels insecurities that young women harbour towards their bodies. With the popularity of picture-perfect Insta-mums on social media, pregnant bodies are under more public scrutiny than ever. ‘Between Man and Child’ invites the audience to stare at and demystify the mother figure. We wanted to show the changes of the body with all its ‘imperfections’ and celebrate its natural beauty.
KM> This is an area we’ve previously addressed in our Define Beauty series, which challenged beauty standards such as the ‘thigh gap’, albinism, body hair, and highlighted the sensuality of body fat. Through NOWNESS’ experience in tackling uncomfortable topics, we’ve discovered that not only do these films create talking points and encourage discussion, but also that our audience like to be provoked and challenged. This experience really informed our commissioning process for the Mother Nature series and we were keen to tackle issues at the heart of new motherhood, rather than to sugar-coat or idealise them in any way.
LBB> Why was it so important to place normality at the centre of this film and demystify motherhood?
NF> Mainstream media has a seemingly insatiable appetite for pictures of celebrity mums; we see streams of Instagram bumps and new baby pictures. So many of these depictions of motherhood are glorified and romanticised. Rarely is the self-sacrificial and self-abnegating role of the Mother explored in depth, perhaps only in art-house film and theatre. We wanted to create a truthful and unflinching moving-image portrait of motherhood that challenged the long-held misrepresentations, stereotypes, and sentimental views by focusing on a sensorial and emotional experience of the new Mother.
KM> We felt there was a need for a new kind of cinematic voice that explored the topic of parenthood with freshness and honesty, without trying to preach in any way. We tried to do this by presenting reality unfiltered. We wanted to mark a departure from judgemental approaches in talking about issues in parenthood. Having a child is extraordinary but yet, at the same time, it’s completely and utterly normal! In this sense, we really wanted to celebrate the diversity of individual human experience, whilst acknowledging that these individual experiences can also resonate universally.
LBB> Who wrote the narration for the film and what inspired the internal monologue?
NF> I wrote the narration. It was inspired by a scene in Robert Mitchell’s 2006 film, Venus, where an elderly man named Maurice (played by Peter O’ Toole) takes a much younger woman, whom he is infatuated with, to the National Gallery to experience some ‘culture’. They stare at a Renaissance painting of a naked woman: Velasquez’ ‘The Toilet of Venus’. Her back is turned to the viewer as she stares at her own reflection in a mirror held by a cupid. He says that a woman's body is the most beautiful thing a man will ever see. When the young woman then asks whether he knows what the most beautiful thing a woman will ever see is, he replies that it will be her first child. Being a mother myself, this really resonated with me and I thought this concept would make a beautiful introduction for the film. The rest flowed organically. Becoming a new mother is like being in limbo: a state of physical and emotional transition in an uncertain place between melancholy and hope, where there is both fear of loss and excitement for the new. It is about surrendering one's identity and redefining oneself.
LBB>Natasja, ‘Between Man and Child’ features fluid substances such as water, blood, and milk that seem to act as visual representations of the shifts in identity created by motherhood. Why did you think such an emotional and sensorial approach was appropriate to convey the series’ message?
NF> We wanted to create a very intimate and immediate portrayal of the internal and external experience of becoming a mother. There’s something quite taboo - perhaps almost pornographic - about seeing body fluids on screen. I think they’re quite unexpected and give the film a really raw and honest edge. There’s nothing glamorous about childbirth.
LBB> Natasja, nudity- particularly the female body - plays a prominent role in your work and you’ve previously explored the subject of motherhood in your work ‘Honor Thy Mother’. In what ways does nudity have the power to interact with conversations surrounding motherhood and sexuality?
NF> I used nudity in the film to celebrate the female form, perhaps almost as a sculptural art form, rather than as an objectified sexual being. I wanted to create a truthful and vulnerable depiction of the Mother unburdened by any sentimental views.
LBB> You mentioned that many of the expecting mothers you approached to potentially film for ‘Between Man and Child’ felt uncomfortable with the idea of explicit nudity in the film. Are you ever challenged by people who find watching nudity uncomfortable? Why do you feel it needs to be normalised in today’s culture?
NF> I don’t think nudity will ever be normalised but I do have a problem with the fact that it’s mostly reserved for sexual connotations. A lot of people immediately associate nudity with pornography or sexuality, yet it can depict so many other things. Perhaps that’s called nakedness rather than nudity.
LBB> ‘Between Man and Child’ has been one of NOWNESS’ best performers, having amassed over 100k views on Facebook and currently holding the status as ‘most loved’ video on their website. Why do you think this video has resonated with so many viewers?
KM> On a personal level, I was incredibly moved when I saw the first edit and it brought back many sensations and emotions from my own experiences in a very real way. I think it’s the vitality of the storytelling, the immediacy and the raw, honest approach that has really resonated with audiences, and not only to a niche audience of mothers but on a universal level, to human beings. The huge number of shares that the film has received on social media really demonstrates the way viewers have connected emotionally with the storytelling and felt compelled to share the film with others. It’s bold, original filmmaking with a beautifully candid core and we’re delighted that the film has resonated so widely.