Are men naturally violent? ‘Around Masculinity’ at Idfa shows films about masculinity

Children look at the painting ‘Judith and Holofernes’ by Artemisia Gentileschi in ‘Look What You Made Me Do’ by Coco Schrijber.

Juliana and Ernesto have a deal. When things go wrong for Ernesto, Juliana has to go straight to her own house. If she sees a man in him that she does not recognize, she must hide the knives from the kitchen cupboard and then quickly leave. Once he has calmed down, he will contact her again. It may take a day. Sometimes longer.

How is it possible that this tall, dark Spaniard, who seems to sit uncomfortably in his body, can turn like a leaf on a tree? Why can he become deadly from one moment to the next for his beloved, a small, gentle, gray-haired woman? Ernesto wants it in The light falls vertically (2022) himself also wants to know: He has struggled all his life with violent outbursts that make it impossible for him to live with anyone. He even contacted filmmaker Efthymia Zymvragaki and made her part of a larger investigation into his behavior. “For one reason,” he writes in a first email to her. ‘I don’t consider myself a bad person. Even though I’ve done terrible things in my life.’

Domestic violence is a topic that comes up a few times in the Idfa focus programme About masculinity. In these documentaries, the violence is not hidden away or excused. The story is told from the complex perspective of perpetrators and victims. Zymvragaki is also so interested in Ernesto because she was mistreated by her father, she says in her poetic documentary. Filmmaker Chongyan Liu tries his hand at the oppressive Is there a pine tree on the mountain her abusive (now) ex might understand by talking to him and his mom about his aggressive dad. Coco Schrijber pops in Look what you made me do women who killed their boyfriend or husband – to prevent the reverse.

'Crazy' (1999) by Heddy Honigmann.  Picture

‘Crazy’ (1999) by Heddy Honigmann.

About masculinity contains a total of about twenty documentaries, classics and new productions, more than half made by female directors, showing how we look at men. How men see themselves. And how documentaries can so beautifully question and undermine the clichés of masculinity. They are about violence, war and the male inability to talk about feelings. They question male archetypes such as the troubled genius (actor Marlon Brando and filmmaker Werner Herzog) and the action hero.

There is a wonderful reason for it crazy (1999) again – the impressive documentary in which Heddy Honigmann manages to break through the soldiers’ hardened armor during interviews with the help of music. Or the award-winning one 3 Rooms of Melancholy (2004), where Pirjo Honkasalo shows, among other things, how young Russian boys are prepared for war. The newer one Delete and forget (Andrea Luka Zimmerman, 2017) is about Vietnam veteran and media personality Bo Gritz, known as ‘the real Rambo’. The film raises the question of how much of his identity as a masculine man is based on fiction.

    Ernesto in 'Light Falls Vertically' (2022) by Efthymia Zymvragaki.  Picture

Ernesto in ‘Light Falls Vertically’ (2022) by Efthymia Zymvragaki.

Where do our perceptions of masculine and feminine come from? To what extent does culture play a role? Two Idfa documentaries explore this explicitly. In the film essays Brainwashed: Sex-Camera-Power (2022) and How dare you have such a rubbish wish (2022) both American Nina Menkes and Iranian-born Mania Akbari analyze how women are portrayed in the films they grew up with. Both Hollywood and pre-revolutionary Iranian cinema prefer to see females as beautiful, silent and submissive, it turns out. That message can be subtle. Menkes shows, for example, how slow motion is invariably used by women in film to sexualize their bodies. And in men? They are only filmed like this in action or violent scenes. This is the final blow. A man collapsing to his death. With this, we unconsciously learn the following, says a film researcher in Menkes’ film: looking at women’s bodies and male strength is nice. ‘Propaganda for the patriarchy’, she calls it.

Menkes clearly sees a connection between this visual culture, inequality in the workplace and the resulting (sexual) violence against women. Akbari asks to what extent the misogynistic image predicted the harsh laws against women after the revolution, or perhaps the country prepared for it. There is anger in these documentaries that doesn’t belong About masculinityprogram because they are about women, but they are a good addition to it. After all, they are also about the influence that these types of images have on men, the implicit message they receive.

Culture constantly feeds us prejudices. Author late Look what you made me do en passant see how the theme of women and violence is depicted in art history. And how it is treated in teaching. “When I told my mother that a boy had beaten me in the schoolyard, she said: ‘It’s because he likes you'” – this is how her film begins.

It seems that women are not the only victims of this kind of ingrained projection About masculinity to stress. They are documentaries that are the starting point for complex discussions. Is the violence ingrained in the man, or is it a silly excuse? To what extent can you escape a violent family history? Your culture and upbringing?

There are no ready answers, Ernesto teaches The light falls vertically. Despite his frantic efforts to investigate why he does what he does – he writes a book, he talks and analyzes, he has his misdeeds acted out by actors – he does not get beyond a painful awareness of his evil behavior. Zymvragaki mainly shows how he is imprisoned. Sad indeed, are all the men there About masculinity, sometimes without even knowing it, get stuck in imposed boxes.

From 'Brainwashed: Sex, Camera, Power' by Nina Menkes.  Picture

From ‘Brainwashed: Sex, Camera, Power’ by Nina Menkes.

Brainwashed: Sex-Camera-Power by filmmaker Nina Menkes is partly a recording of her lecture Sex and power: The visual language of oppression. In it, she describes five typical techniques that directors use when filming women. After making the connection to the abuse case against Harvey Weinstein and this way of portraying, she was allowed to give her lecture all over Hollywood and at all major film festivals, in front of an audience of (famous) directors, actors and other interested parties.

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