With Earth Day around the corner on Friday, April 22 and the climate crisis imminent as ever, the decades-long action around our environmental emergency seems to be nearing a climax. For filmmaker Mariel Gomsrud, this sense of urgency has sparked something bigger than just inspiration. La Petite Mort, premiering today on PAPER, explores the "ecosexual" movement, which treats Earth not as a child in need of care or the classic "mother" figure, but as a lover.
By inviting viewers to see its subjects' relationship with soil and trees as they would a partner, La Petite Mort brings light to the many "little deaths" and greater mistreatment of our planet. "Wedding vows to marry the Earth," the opening line translates from French, establishing a contract between humanity and Earth. The following sequences show women in their own relationships with the land in all forms: the fiery, yet soft hues of a flower petal, the worn, delicate grooves of tree bark, the cracked, dusted surface of desert rock.
The featured women mirror the natural world, which comes alive through them. Together they breathe one breath, building through sharp cuts and movements, before uniting nature and body for the final "petite mort" — a play on the French euphemism for a climax to encourage action and the need to raise our collective consciousness. In a swirl of bubbles, sky, sand and sea, the subjects of La Petite Mort collapse into one and each woman eventually emerges as an expression of the Earth itself.
Returning to the water, as if to the womb, the narrator issues a final statement: "We are dedicated to you, Earth," she says. "Through this land that we will become." The film closes with an acknowledgment of "sexecology," as a practice of the ecosexual movement that's based in nature fetishism. "It invites people to treat the Earth with love rather than see it as an infinite reason to exploit," the final text reads, as Gomsrud ultimately urges viewers of La Petite Mort to treat the Earth, and each other, with a more sensitive, sensual touch.
Photo courtesy of Mariel Gomsrud