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Review: 'A Horse Is Not a Metaphor'

Hammer's joy in being alive is no metaphor either
By PETER KEOUGH  |  May 6, 2009
3.0 3.0 Stars

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Cinema might not be able to cure cancer, but when wielded by a master documentarian like Barbara Hammer, it can squeeze a little beauty out of the disease. Shot during her long bout with uterine cancer and her subsequent 18 months of remission, this short film doesn't flinch from the painful details (Hammer asks for a moment to look away when a needle is about to be plunged into her abdomen; the camera, though, doesn't move) but weaves them into a fugal collage that includes shots of her walking naked into a stream (reminiscent of Eadweard Muybridge and of Maya Deren's "Meshes of the Afternoon") and of horses in the desert set to a haunting soundtrack by Meredith Monk. The film's title might be an allusion to Susan Sontag's 1977 essay "Illness As Metaphor," and indeed the illness shown here is brutally literal, but Hammer's joy in being alive is no metaphor either.

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