When Montreal-based, first-time director Liliana Komorowska began filming Beauty and the Breast in 2009, she wasn’t quite sure what to expect. “I never really looked into the subject of cancer since I’m healthy, happy, and felt I didn’t have to worry about it,” she says. “But I started wondering how many women are in my position, thinking they are invincible and will never be diagnosed? It started to overtake me.” Komorowska decided to find nine women willing to share their vastly different experiences with the disease, and that material became the foundation for her feature-length documentary. Beauty and the Breast officially releases in October and has already won numerous awards, including the Public Award at the Montréal's World Film Festival in 2012 and Best Feature Documentary at this year's Women's International Film & Arts Festival.
Komorowska chose to feature nine as an homage to a statistic—one in nine women diagnosed with breast cancer in Canada. The film uses those perspectives to explore the multiple facets of the disease. “I wanted to dip into every single possibility,” says Komorowska, who used an all-female crew to make her subjects feel more comfortable during interviews. “Each of these women have a wonderful story to tell.”
When one of the characters, Valerie, bears her chest devoid of breasts after a double mastectomy, the viewer isn’t in shock by what’s missing, but rather what remains: someone comfortable in her own skin. “I’m not one inch less of a woman,” Valerie declares to the camera. “The disease doesn’t make us less beautiful or less feminine, and society needs to teach us to accept ourselves more as human beings than as sexy women."
“Like Valerie, the women in this film feel wonderfully privileged to have life, and they show that life is more important than breasts and beauty,” says Komorowska.
After Angelina Jolie's controversial decision to undergo a preventive double mastectomy went public back in May, the director decided to add another woman's story to the film. Like the actress, Joanne learned she carried a mutated gene which put her at high risk of developing breast cancer, and elected to have a double mastectomy to help prevent the disease in the future.
Joanne is another example of a woman handling the disease in her own way, presented, like the other subjects of the film, without judgment or affectation. As the film goes on, you meet new subjects like Amba, who opts for alternative medicine treatments; Pamela, who was originally misdiagnosed and waited months to find out the truth about her health; and Kathleen, who has struggled with several different cancers in her short 27 years.
These are the faces of women in just one community who are battling the realities of an all-too-common struggle with breast cancer. The film is a revealing look at human resilience, transformations both physical and emotional, and a charge to challenge the perception of what makes a woman beautiful. Despite their different stories, what the nine do have in common is their inner beauty. “I’m often asked, ‘how come you chose all these beautiful women?’ and it strikes me as an interesting question,” Komorowska admits. “Some of these women are 60 and have wrinkles. I tell people, ‘If you think they are beautiful, it’s because it’s transparent. It comes from within.’”
Beauty and The Breast will be in limited release starting in October and available on demand on November 14, 2013.