Thursday, April 1, 2010

The Masculine Mystique

(John N. Smith, 1984)
I think this was Smith's first effort at combining documentary material with dramatic techniques, and it's a real and unique fusion. Four NFB filmmakers describe their relationships with women, then act out scenes from these relationships, and then harangue each other over what they're doing wrong. In spite of what you'd fear, the balance between these elements is very well handled - the dramatics lead the chatter instead of the other way around. All manner of real-life kids, mothers and wives are given as much screen time as their charisma will sustain; Stefan Wodoslawsky's vexed dating life generates the most textured drama - in part, I suspect, because his opposite number does seem to have some training in performance. Of course, the sausage-party format can get annoying, as is ultimately the point: this is a narrow cross section addressing a doggedly finite range of personal dilemmas. But as someone from that side of the table I was struck not just with how universal emotional incompetence and egotism seem to be, but that candor, introspection, and insight are just as pervasive. These people are all volatile and unpredictable works in progress, and the camera really lets us into their lives - and then, all praise to the magic of cinema, lets us back out again.

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