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Nudism with more
A review of Loin Des Yeux, directed by Nicolas Poirier and Gautier Rolland
Loin Des Yeux (Out of Sight) is, in the words of its director Nicolas Poirier, “a documentary project on naturism, its followers and its values.” Filmed on the grounds of the oldest naturist campground in Europe, le Centre Hélio Marin de Montalivet, or CHM Montalivet, in Vendays-Montalivet, France, Loin Des Yeux is a beautiful example of what is sometimes referred to as “slow cinema,” or “contemplative cinema.” In contrast to the two-second average shot length, rapid-fire dialogue, juvenile humor, and bombastic soundtracks favored by many Hollywood filmmakers, slow cinema challenges the audience to ruminate over each scene, to quietly look and listen, and to develop their own interpretations. Loin Des Yeux is filled with unhurried shots of squirrels scampering up tree trunks, raindrops pummeling leaves, sea oats swaying on the beach, and towering pines casting long shadows over the modest cabins, tents, and campers scattered throughout CHM Montalivet.
Loin Des Yeux introduces us to a number of naturists, of various ages, nationalities, and backgrounds, each offering their unique perspective on naturism. The film opens with a silhouette of the eighty-seven year-old Frère Jacques making his way down the beach with the aid of a cane. A visitor to CHM since the age of nineteen, his body is now bent and frail, his hair long and white, and his skin toughened from years in the sun. But he possesses a serene spirit and youthful energy immediately familiar to anyone who has spent time in a naturist community. Jean-Claude, white hair hanging over his oversized white sunglasses, describes CHM Montalivet as “the stopping-place” of his life. Twenty-nine year-old Florian has been coming to CHM with his twenty-six year-old friend Daan for ten years, ever since meeting at the campground. A retiree named Nadine (“My age? I won’t tell you!”) says that she loves, “art, theater, life, the sun, the birds… and naturism.” Twenty-two year-old Etienne relates that, “My parents came here before me, and so did my grandparents.”
Through these interviews, Poirier and Rolland make an important observation about the generational appeal of CHM. We might easily create spaces where people are free to remove their clothing, but nurturing affirming, rejuvenating, and sustainable communities, where diverse people come together with respect and admiration for one another, is a far more difficult achievement. Images of the CHM naturists enjoying music, food, sport, poetry and nature together, and connecting with one another, are wonderful to behold.
While many of the residents offer familiar adages about the benefits and joys of naturism, there are several memorable and thought-provoking observations. At an evening potluck gathering, a man comments, “When you accept to offer nudity to someone, and someone agrees to offer it to us, there is a predisposition to understand each other.” Frère Jacques says, “True naturism is this contact with very simple relationships with nature, with the possibility of restoring oneself.” For these visitors to CHM, naturism possesses a meaning deeper and more integral than relaxation and recreation. Naturism is much, much more.
At the 1986 World Congress on Nude Beaches in Antiparos, Greece, Naturist Society founder Lee Baxandall proclaimed, “Naturism in my concept is ‘nudity with more’ and as well it is ‘nudism with more.’” It’s a distinction that’s heard less often in contemporary nudist and naturist circles, but his words are echoed by many of the naturists we meet in Loin Des Yeux.
“I hate being told that I’m a nudist,” Nadine exclaims, “because naturism is a respect for nature, respect for peacefulness, respect for others.” A young man explains his belief that naturism is “something more global than just getting naked, while nudism immediately refers to more subversive sides.” Perhaps Frère Jacques says it best in his closing remarks: “Returning to the truth with nature, with one’s respect and one’s personal behavior. Here is for me the true naturism, which is much more important than the simple nudism. Of course, it encloses nudity, but it goes… beyond that.”
Compelling nudist and naturist films are exceptionally uncommon, and those that do reach American audiences are far too often the products of the director’s subjective fantasies regarding what naturism should be, rather than the objective reality of what it is. Having spent much of his life at CHM, Poirier avoids this tendency. It is clear he possesses a connection to and a great admiration for CHM and its people, and he does a remarkable job of capturing the authentic essence of this naturist community. So remarkable, in fact, that one hardly notices the near-complete absence of nudity in the film. Poirier’s message is clear: naturism is more than nudity.
Loin Des Yeux is a lovely work. To the seasoned naturist, it’s a wistful and unassuming tribute to our way of life, a love letter to the unique communities that develop in the seaside retreats and forested campgrounds where clothing is optional, all around the world. To those unfamiliar with the naturist idea, Loin Des Yeux serves as an exceptional introduction to the idea. As Poirier explains, “It's about showing the world what's going on in this caring community, outside the norms imposed by society, out of sight.” 🪐