16 September 2009

Video and Theory: On Mother & Child and on Men in Film

One of the films that didn't make my list for this new, beginning season of film but that may yet make my - dare I say, more significant - list for this season, once ended, (i. e., my Top Ten of 2009) is a film that has just recently started receiving notices from festivals' circuit. This film Mother & Child is a product of its writer-director Rodrigo García, who has worked (for my credit) on several episodes of HBO's (wonderful) In Treatment, and it features what is apparently a tremendous leading performance by an actress who in my opinion should already have a golden man, Ms. Annette Bening. While the veracity of this claim remains untested by me, as I have yet to actually see the film myself, the film nevertheless remains on my radar for that reason and for one other particular reason: Mr. García's subtle and quotidian story-telling. So, imagine my surprise when Mr. García admitted in a recent promotional clip and interview that he finds it terribly difficult to write in that way for characters other than women: "I find it really hard to write about men without the pursuit being big - you know, blowing up a bridge, robbing a bank - you know - conquering Russia." While he goes on to admit that such films are not impossible to be written and points to Sideways (2005) as a prime example of writing that well exemplifies the "crisis that regular men go through," he nevertheless shocked me by so fiercely limiting the representations of men or male characters in films, in such narrow and - frankly - outdated terms. Though of course we never be able to shake the myth of rough and testosterone-pumped empowerment for a man in the canon of our here favorite story-telling medium (i. e., film), it is unnecessary to even think that we need to do so in order to equally install the myth of soft and tranquil accomplishment, cerebral rather than hormonal, for a man into that same canon and into our culture. For me, Mr. García's comments speak of an extremely gender-biased personal history for the writer-director that derails a lot of the personal stock I had placed in him as a writer-director open to the possibilities of the future, rather than closed by the resistances of the past. For me, his comments speak of the same millennia-old stereotypes, those of he-man and she-woman as warrior and waitress respectively, in terms sadly reinforcing of them in today's shifting and finally evolving sociocultural climate. Today men need not be replica of the triumphant Hercules that a character like a Gladiator (2000) or even like the lead actor in Transformers (2007) is (i. e., riddled with bravura, either by personal or technical design), in order to find a respecting and admiring peers' audience in the public; men instead may be and have already been - several times over - ruminating domesticians or beautifully commonplace family-members, struggling for no more in their lives than social acceptance or emotional consolation - realms that you have explicitly reserved for women and women only: men like the characters in Little Miss Sunshine (2007), in The Visitor (2009), and most pertinently to this discussion in The Wrestler (2009) . Grand pretense does certainly not the man make, Mr. García - Randy "The Ram," who knows hardly another man who has shown as much bravura as he, has learned that truth before even his first few moments of screen-life begin - and to promote that you personally believe otherwise, so much so than you cannot fathom a way to write such a non-hyperdriven drama for a man, is to sully your own artistic ambition by placing yourself in cultural retrograde, backslide into the mentality of an earlier era of distillation, posturing, and gruff stubborn disenlightenment. Wake up, sir; it's a new time and we have come very far from where you think, we still are.

Though I of course will not let these resultant opinions of mine cloud my reception of your work later this year, when I finally do get to see it, they nevertheless will cloud my reception of you, as a person to be heard, from now on.

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