Visions du Réel 2024 review: Apple Cider Vinegar (Sofie Benoot)

“This is not a movie about a woman and her kidney stone after all, but about our need to tell stories to tame the chaos that surrounds us.”

Imagine this: a woman gets a kidney stone removed, and out of curiosity she asks for a chemical analysis of this almost perfectly rounded sphere. To her surprise, traces of a mineral supposed to be present only in Antarctica are found, leaving her with new unanswered questions: how did it get inside her? For how long had it travelled? Now this retired wildlife documentary narrator who thought she had already told every story she had to tell, decides to travel the globe trying to solve her kidney stone mystery and learning more about rocks, minerals, and the earth itself through a series of encounters with different people and their personal narratives. This is Sofie Benoot’s unusual Apple Cider Vinegar.

Two encounters stayed with me. The first one, a woman with chronic pain who claims to feel the ground moving on her body; she’s obsessed with earthquakes and as she spends her days managing the pain and following tectonic plate movements, she also takes care of her husband. He suffers from short-term memory loss and keeps watching the same movies over and over. Not that different from our narrator (voiced by Siân Phillips), who despite not working on movies about nature anymore cannot help but spend her days watching camera feed from biological research institutes while reminiscing on her own past. Perhaps this is not a movie about a woman and her kidney stone after all, but about our need to tell stories to tame the chaos that surrounds us.

The second encounter introduces us to a Palestinian quarry worker. He spent most of his life breaking rocks but now his hands are too damaged to continue the work. Here I think of Aeschylus and his The Oresteia, and a small passage that might shed some light on Apple Cider Vinegar‘s questions. As the ancient Greek tragedian wrote, “This was always going to happen. She’s been dead since the beginning.” So, why bother telling the story? Why does this man care about the history of his quarry and its stones? I don’t believe that there’s an answer to this question and certainly Benoot’s movie doesn’t offer one. However, since knowing the outcome does not relieve us from the weight of history, perhaps this is why the very act of documenting and filming is so central to a movie that began as a story about a woman and her kidney stone: as it took several minerals for it to take form, she is the result of every story she lived, of every documentary she worked on, of every place she lived in and of all the people she met.

In the end it’s impossible to find out how that rare mineral got inside of her, but it is possible to tell the story of how people are but the settlement of different narrative layers, not that different from a stone made of different minerals. Perhaps telling these stories lightens the burden of carrying them. To sum it all up, the story of the kidney stone might be the beginning of Benoot’s movie, but it is the end of the history of that rare mineral, for it is already transformed into that kidney stone; and yet, it is also a story that demands to be told.