In her first short film, French director Marine Billet wrestles with the intimate concept of beauty and the problem of its indeterminacy, making it a complex, subtle, and forever uncertain experience. What is Beauty? questions our constant search for, and obsession with, definitions of beauty, as well as the potentially detrimental effects that these have on our sense of self.
Billet’s short film follows a young woman recalling the simple moments that have touched her in her personal quest to find the meaning of beauty. Beauty is admired in different forms; found in the contemplation of a perfect object, like a motionless flower bouquet that pleases the aesthetic senses. It also exists in imperfections, in the fascinating image of the aftermath of a fallen vase. Beauty, the film tells us, is based on a judgment of perception and is always reconstituted anew. But are declarations of beauty purely subjective? Or can we all take delight in certain things?
In these times of social media, envy, and narcissism, beauty is often reduced to a fragile arrangement of self-adoration. “Am I beautiful?”, the woman in the film inquires, as she looks at her reflection. As beauty becomes almost suffocating and distorts the true self, resolution is found in the recovery of past transient moments of intimacy. This is beauty then, a peculiar experience, a momentary pause in our hectic lives. Yet, this leaves many questions unanswered. What exactly is beautiful? A particular sensory experience, or our responsiveness to that stimulation? Can beauty ever be faithfully represented and recreated in an image? The film is, in many ways, Billet’s attempt to answer these questions.