Movie review by Karla Kiefer
Looking for a film to watch during your quarantine and chill session? Well, here is a hidden gem which has been under the radar since its release but is worth the watch. In April 2018, Netflix released its second French-language original film: I Am Not an Easy Man (French: Je ne suis pas un homme facile) which was directed by Eleanor Pourriat. This fantasy romantic comedy stars Damien (Vincent Elbaz), a Parisian bachelor who is also a publicist, womanizer and catcaller. On a walk with his friend, Damien hits his head and finds himself in a parallel universe where the hegemon is a matriarchy rather than a patriarchy.
The stereotypical social gender roles have been reversed; men are more typically feminine and women are more typically masculine. Damien finds this a challenging experience as this is the first time that he is oppressed and sexualized as a man. In this society, women are in control. They hold the doors open for men; they do not shave and giving birth is viewed as a heroic act. Damien, however, is forced to adhere to the new social norms which for him are hyper-feminine such as waxing his chest hair in the form of a Brazilian wax and carrying a purse. Moreover, he experiences pressure from his parents to settle down, find a wife and start a family.
Damien quits his job due to being the victim of sexual assault. He then seeks support from a masculist group which helps fight discrimination against men in the workplace. According to the Collins English Dictionary, a masculinist is an “an advocate of the rights of men”. Damien soon finds a new job with Alexandra (Marie-Sophie Ferdane), a successful journalist whom he falls in love with. Alexandra literally as well as figuratively wears the pants in their relationship. Whilst working for Alexandra, Damien explains to her what his (our) universe is like. Alexandra is completely fascinated by his stories of the social norms and dress codes and manipulates their relationship to get more inspiration to write her new book “I am Not an Easy Man”. By experiencing this gender inequality in this matriarchal world, Damien begins to understand the gender inequality in his own world as well, and he becomes an activist. However, Alexandra and other women get tired of Damien’s “masculinist babble.”
This film makes us critically think about the gender roles we have in place in our world and how we adhere to them. Ultimately, this alternate universe is not necessarily a female utopia as there is racism, sexism and oppression. Women may be allowed to be more comfortable with their bodies; such as talking about menstruation, giving birth and their sexuality. However, men are now more self-conscious about their body, for example, they have to wear deodorant pads, and are called emotional or hormonal when they complain about being exploited in their homes or at the workplace.
The film starts with a scene from Damien’s childhood. He is in a school play and dresses up as Snow White and wears a dress to impress a girl. However, when he goes on stage, he is laughed at. This then shapes his view of what men should and should not do as well as his outlook on life. I find this scene very interesting, as, from a young age, we are shaped by our gender. This has been further explored in the academic world and more specifically within gender studies by Judith Butler, who mentions that gender is performative. This means that gender is a social construct. Moreover, scholar Simone de Beauvoir mentions that “[o]ne is not born, but rather becomes, a woman” (“The Second Sex”). This suggests that gender and the performance of gender is more fluid than our binary concept of it.
The reason you should watch I Am Not an Easy Man is because it challenges our view of gender roles. Another reason to watch this film is that it brings gender theory to life. I will compare two scenes from the film; the first is before Damien hits his head and is at his place of work the second scene is when Damien is at his same job but this time the matriarchy is in control. In the first scene, a female worker enters a meeting where there are only men. The company is clearly catering for a male-oriented market as Damien is presenting a new advert for a “boner-o-meter.” The female worker, Sophie, then asks “What about women?” Damien says that women are represented but clearly they are represented for the pleasure of men as Damien points out that there are “Blonde, Asain, Brunette” women. Sophie asks if this is a joke to which Damien responds “kind of. It’s called humor. I could explain it better over dinner tonight.” Damien, openly mansplains and advances onto Sophie to which he receives much praise from his fellow male co-workers and there is a suggestion to make a gay version.
Within the matriarchy, Damien enters the office and greets the male receptionist, who mentions that his shirt is see-through. Damien walks up to Sophie who in this universe is his boss and he asks her where all the men are to which she responds “we do our best” and then she compliments his shirt and tells him that it is sexy. Sophie brings Damien into her office for a talk and explains that she has rejected his project because the customers prefer a more “feminine humor” and that Damien’s humor is too delicate. Another shock for Damien is that Sophie has a bowl of tampons on her table to which she adds “super plus. I’m a heavy bleeder”. This shows that there is no shame or embarrassment that women have menstrual cycles. However, Damien is taken aback and throws the tampon on the ground in disgust but then proceeds to pick it from the ground. It is at this moment that Sophie unzips her pants to make a sexual move on Damien. He is flattered and responds by rubbing her leg only to see that she has leg hair and is once again taken aback. A male secretary enters the room and Sophie explains why another project (by a woman, Fabienne) is better and that they can make a lesbian version of the “vulv-o-meter.” Damien rushes to a bar to get a beer and it is at this moment that he only experiences discrimination based on gender. In the bar, the bartender refuses to serve two veiled men to which one responds “It’s always the same. Whether its head scarves or short pants, men always get blamed. Women are never at fault.” This all takes place within the first 15 minutes of the film.
This female gaze by the female director is not necessarily a better alternative. However, this awareness will help us move to a more inclusive and gender-equal world both within the film industry and within our own societies. This film reverses gender roles and makes our own gender roles more visible. This film greatly incorporates gender studies and helps us to reflect on social structures and social norms within our society. In addition, the film brings out awareness to the gender inequality and any biases we may have. In many ways this film not only teaches us and puts a mirror to our society but also helps us unlearn narratives we may still believe to be the norm. At the end of the film Damien and Alexandra return back to Damien’s world and they see a women’s protest chanting “Stand together, fight the fight! Women of the world unite!” This is the first time that Alexandra realizes her privilege is challenged when she enters the patriarchal world. “Je ne suis pas un homme facile” brings to light that we must check our privilege and see how best we can be an ally.
Karla Kiefer is a student at Radboud University and a staff editor at Raffia Magazine.
Works Cited Beauvoir, Simone de, et al. The Second Sex. Vintage Books, 2015. Butler, Judith. Gender Trouble. Routledge, 2006. “Masculinist Definition and Meaning: Collins English Dictionary.” Masculinist Definition and Meaning | Collins English Dictionary, HarperCollins Publishers Ltd, www.collinsdictionary.com/dictionary/english/masculinist.