||"The way to go to the movies, is critically. While we plunge into each picture as if it were happening to us, we must also watch it as a work of art."
-- Quentin Crisp
|Man is a Woman|
|Directed by Jean-Jacques Zilbermann|
|Starring Antoine de Caunes (nominated, Best Actor, Césars 1999) and Elsa Zylberstein|
|A Mongrel Media Release|
|Unavailable in video|
|Review by Charles Blaquière|
A French version of this review is available.
Don't get me wrong: I'm all for frothy entertainment, but I got much more satisfaction from a movie like this, which leaves predictable stereotypes in the dust.
Simon is perfectly satisfied with his gay life, nonchalantly ambling along bathhouse hallways before trudging down to a Jewish family wedding. Who could blame him for being reluctant to go? His relatives keep asking about girlfriends and pressure him into displaying his considerable clarinet skills--and there's the matter of cousin David, the groom for whom Simon has a serious case of unrequited lust.
His aren't the only pair of hungry eyes, however. Rosalie is watching.
Cut to a Paris apartment. As Simon points a horrid trick to the bathroom, his banker uncle sets the gears in motion: he'll give 10 million Francs to see Simon carry on the family name. No help from the mother, whose distaste for her son's "flaw" makes her see Franc signs even more vividly. The scheming crone comes up with a simple plan: Simon will marry, pass Go, collect 10 million Francs, then divorce.
All he needs is a patsy.
We soon learn how naive poor Rosalie is, as she pursues our virile protagonist. Though possessing an impressive soprano voice, she's still a bit of a loser. Simon's hesitant courtship is made even more difficult by her idiosyncrasies, but 10 mil buys you a lot of bains sauna nights, so he perseveres. Soon, the couple is off to New York City to meet Rosalie's doctrinal family, who'd make the Rev. Ken Campbell look like Hugh Heffner. There's even the obligatory complication: sharing a bed with the hunky, closeted gay brother, who admits Simon is "just my type".
Until now, this could be any cookie-cutter Hollywood flick--but truth soon comes out and the story now enters uncharted territory, deliciously exploring the nuances that emerge when thhese two people make an honest attempt at building a life together. And that's when the real fun begins, as we Simon and Rosalie somehow try to make the parts fit, in more ways than one.
Life is messy. People are multidimensional. A gay man may find himself suddenly desiring a wife and kids. A pure-hearted woman may enter married life with the man she loves, hoping to nudge him across the Kinsey scale as time goes on. Our world is not made of static stereotypes, and this movie explores some contemporary issues with respect and integrity.
But it's not a dour exercise in social analysis. Bearded Antoine de Caunes is quite easy on the eyes--the only Frenchman I've ever lusted after! The comic pratfalls are plentiful. And the music is mesmerizing; Simon's haunting clarinet and Rosalie's pure voice (sung by soprano Rosalie Becker) certainly opened my eyes to the beauty of Klezmer music. If you preferred "La cage aux folles" to "The birdcage" or "Trois hommes et un couffin" to "Three men and a baby", this is for you.
Skip French version of this review
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