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Film review

SHORT FILM REVIEWS ‘MASCULINITIES’

Feminism looks at gender relations and the place of sexuality on a daily basis everywhere in society, dominant discourses, culture, science… Here, the film review focuses on gender and especially the representation of masculinity in the film industry with the help of 3 films.

Guillaume et les Garçon à table (2013)

Guillaume singing with the boarding school choir. Guillaume et les Garçon à table (2013) by Guillaume Galienne.

This story was made by the French director and actor Guillaume Galienne. He is also the main character of the film because he is explaining his story and his relation with his family. The particularity of this film is that Guillaume Galienne, in addition to direct and plays his own role, plays the role of his mother. In his film, Guillaume explains how he admired his mother so much that he would act like her in his room wrapped into his blanket to fake a dress and sheets on his head to fake long hair. His story highlights how misunderstood he was by people who strictly followed their gender roles. He also tells how he was treated differently than his two other brothers. That’s why the film is called “Guillaume et les garçons à table” meaning “Guillaume and the boys, food is ready” which shows that Guillaume is not seen as a man by his family. The way Guillaume was not “masculine” in the traditional sense, made his close circle assumes that he was gay. As homosexuality is stereotypically liked to feminity and being less of a man. However, the family is very surprised to discover his deep love for a woman. Here, it points out again the prejudices regarding masculinity and the fact that a man following or not the traditional conception of masculinity defines his sexual orientation. This film showcases the problems related to the conceptualisation of masculinity and that it should be re-thought to allow more freedom, more emancipation and the emergence of a plethora of masculinities. There should not be one way to be a man. Ultimately, re-conceptualising these ideals will enable men to feel more comfortable in their gender and have more fluidity. 

El lugar sin límites ‘The place without limits’  (1997)

‘Manuela’ and ‘La Japonesita at the brothel. A place without Limits (1997) by Arturo Ripstein

First and foremost, I would like to emphasise that this is a ‘Must watch’ when it comes to Mexican cinema; but at the same time, I would also include a big TW (Trigger Warning) at the top of this movie suggestion. It deals with topics in a way that could be traumatising or harmful for certain audiences. This movie was screened in the Venice Classic section at the 75th Venice International Film Festival and almost a nominee for Best Foreign Language Film at the 51st Academy Awards. Nevertheless, it could be upsetting, so we leave it to your consideration. 

The place without limits was released in the 70s, during what many people called ‘the transcendent decade’ that reshaped the national film industry—made by the so-acclaimed Mexican director, Arturo Ripstein, who adapted a novel with the same name, written by the Chilean Jose Donoso in 1966. It tells the story of ‘Manuela’, a Mexican trasvestite and sex-worker, who together with her daughter, runs a brothel in a small Mexican town. Don Alejo, the town’s mayor is in process of purchasing the house from them, when Pancho’s return raises concerns about Manuela’s safety. The story entangles a whole scenery and accurate screening of the Mexican traditional gender stigmas and creates a dichotomy between the macho culture and gender/sexual freedom. 

Despite being catalogued as one of the best movies in the history of Mexican cinema. Ripstein’s work was completely groundbreaking for the understanding of gender performativity in traditional Mexican society. The film does not hold back in addressing sexual repression, gender-based violence, homophobia and transphobia. The film is exceptional in challenging binarism, hegemonic masculinity, and  heteronormativity through image, storytelling, and language usage. You will find the traditional Mexican ‘macho’ questioning heterosexuality in the house of a matriarch.

Billy Elliot (2000)

Billie Elliot at the boxing gym, joining the ballet class. Billie Elliot (2000) by Stephen Daldry.

This British film was directed by Stephen Daldry. It shows the daily life of a modest family in the East-North of England during the mine strikes in the mid-1980s. It tells the story of a British working-class boy, Billy, who discovers classical dance and wants to give up boxing classes for dance classes. He is stopped by his father because dance is not a man activity. Nevertheless, Billy’s passion for dance is stronger than the gender norms telling him that a boy cannot become a ballet dancer. Thus, he secretly uses the money for his boxing lessons to take dance classes. The teacher notices directly his talents for dancing. The father discovers that his son was taking ballet lessons while he was not aware which gets him very angry. He tries to stop him from taking these classes but the teacher defends Billie’s case. In this film, masculinity is implicitly discussed by addressing  the prejudices of male ballet dancers. Indeed, dance, especially ballet, is seen as feminine and typically associated with women. Therefore, as seen by the reaction of the dad, ballet is not compatible with men in the traditional sense because it does not fit masculine ideals related to strength, power and virility. In addition, it shows one type of masculinity supported by the father, which includes very precise characteristics such as being strong, practicing sports usually assigned with men such as combat sports. He expresses his disagreements with the will of his son to go beyond this restrictive perspective on masculinity by doing what he loves: dancing. Hence, this film highlights the limiting aspects of a masculinity embedded in a strict perception of gender norms. It shows that little boys like Billy Elliot should be free to choose what they are passionate about even if it does not fit traditional characteristics ascribed to their gender and therefore re-create and re-conceptualise their own masculinity.

The concept of masculinity is complex and is in constant evolution. It is crucial to question and criticise masculinity within films because art shapes our world and mirrors it.