InspireFest, Women of the World Festival, Athena Film Festival

Director's statement

Director's Statement

I never imagined that one quote could change the course of my life. One day, I came across an essay that started with these provocative words by Ambrose Bierce: “To men a man is but a mind. Who cares what face he carries or what he wears? But a woman’s body is the woman.” The truth – and the profound injustice – of this sentence was on prominent display all around me. And it hit close to home: was that the reason why every woman in my life was insecure about her body? I was reminded of this beauty imperatives hundreds of times a day, whenever I saw a billboard ad, opened a magazine, or when I turned on TV. Everywhere, there seemed to be an obsession over female youth and beauty, and about a very specific body type that excluded 99% of the female population. And so I started asking myself: who profits from this? 

That’s how THE ILLUSIONISTS was born.


"Rigid Western ideals are increasingly permeating cultures all over the globe, introducing damaging standards of thinness in particular where they may never before have existed."


"In The Illusionists, Elena Rossini’s award-winning 2015 documentary about unattainable ideals of beauty, the psychologist and social critic Susie Orbach says, 'Just as English has become the lingua franca of the world, so too the white, blondified, small-nosed, pert-breast, long-legged body is coming to stand in for the great variety of human bodies that there are.'"

British Vogue

"Beauty - so the saying goes - is in the eye of the beholder. Yet, media images of tall, thin, flawless and beautifully coiffured men and women can skew how we see ourselves. So, it's no surprise that the industry of looking good is worth around $460 billion dollars worldwide. But what are people spending their money on?"


"Picking up where Jean Kilbourne’s 1979 film series, Killing Us Softly, left off, The Illusionists examines the ramifications of the globalization of Western beauty ideals and marketing strategies, tracing the saturation of cosmetic advertising from London and Paris to Beirut, Mumbai, and Tokyo."

The Cut

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InspireFest, Women of the World Festival, Athena Film Festival

From Harvard University to the halls of the Louvre Museum, passing by a cosmetic surgeon’s office in Beirut, to the heart of Tokyo’s Electric Town, The Illusionists explores how the body has become “the finest consumer object.” The preoccupation over physical beauty is as old as time; what is different today is the central role that the pursuit of the perfect body has taken: it has become our new religion. A beautiful body is seen today as key for personal and also, more importantly, economic success for both women and men. The fast-paced culture brought on by globalization and the new economy has created a new paradigm of self-making: individuals are increasingly pushed to re-invent themselves; the key anxiety of the 21st century is the fear of disposability. From New York to Tokyo, relentless propaganda reminds us that we have only one body – and that we have to enhance it. Through advertising and mass media, multibillion-dollar industries (most notably cosmetics, fashion, dieting, and cosmetic surgery) saturate our lives with images of idealized, unattainable beauty, of an “Official Body” that does not really exist in nature and that can be obtained only through cosmetic surgery… or digital retouching. Flawless beauty is on display everywhere: in street ads, newspapers, magazines, TV, films… as well as in video games and pornography. The very quantity of these images makes it impossible for people not to be affected by them. Indeed, the ideal consumer is someone who is anxious, depressed and constantly dissatisfied: academic studies from the most respected institutions show that sad people are bigger spenders. The beauty industry is constantly expanding and has now found two new targets: men and children. A revolution is under way in the perception that these two groups have of themselves. The Illusionists explores these themes through the testimonies of sociologists, politicians, magazine editors, scientists, artists and activists in North America, Europe, the Middle East and Asia.



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