That time of the month. A visit from Aunt Flo. The crimson tide. There are plenty of euphemisms for menstruation, and director Lina Plioplyte‘s documentary “Periodical” gives an exhaustive, comprehensive look at periods. It’s a stark contrast to society’s history of not caring about periods or biology, as menstruation has long been something women are taught that they shouldn’t ever talk about or discuss because it’s seen as taboo. The film shows that while things are changing for the better, we still have a long way to go when it comes to fully embracing and accepting periods as natural and normal.

Featuring clips and interviews of people talking about periods, the documentary has a clear agenda: let’s bring society into the modern age and remove the stigma around menstruation. None of the subjects are uncomfortable discussing this natural biological function, and the information presented is often eye-opening, like the fact that many students have missed classes due to lack of access to tampons and pads. These items are so expensive that some communities have organized product drives for donations to hand out to women in need who simply cannot afford them.

This leads to a lengthy discussion of the so-called “menstrual justice movement” and the outrageous tampon tax, which levies additional taxes on period products when things like Viagra, condoms, and dandruff shampoo have none. Plioplyte interviews the young activists who have made it their personal mission to get laws changed, Gen Z women who are blazing a trail that was paved in the 70s with the publication of “Our Bodies Ourselves.” Their work towards equality is inspiring.

The film gives a lot of history, from the origins of the first tampons (which were made out of feathers and cloth) and the history of pads (we have the nurses of WWI to thank for that). Plioplyte goes on to explore the evolution of these products, from the very first modernized tampon to hit the market in the 1930s to the debate over potentially dangerous ingredients in commercial tampons.

There’s an excellent segment on the way periods are portrayed in pop culture, from the most negative (“Carrie,” “Superbad,”) to the latest efforts to normalize menstruation in mainstream media. We are entering a time where bleeding may no longer be seen as dreadful and disgusting.

The most commendable part of Plioplyte’s film is her attempt to teach young girls the biology behind their periods, reassuring them that it’s complex but not scary. Educational but breezy, the movie features animation to explain the how and why of menstruation. It’s easily accessible to adolescents, but also a good refresher course for those of use who barely remember our middle school biology classes.

There’s so much information included that the film becomes a little exhausting. Plioplyte covers all phases of a woman’s period, including frank discussions about endometriosis, menopause, and the use of HRT and holistic treatments to ease hot flashes and mood swings when their menstrual cycle eventually comes to an end. The most compelling is an interview with actor Naomi Watts, who shares her story of early-onset menopause and how that personally changed her body and her mental state.

“Periodical” covers a lot of ground and can feel overwhelming, but there’s never been another documentary that examines all things period-related as well as (or as entertaining) as this.

By: Louisa Moore

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