Thursday, November 10, 2016

Jacques Demy | L'Événement le plus important depuis que l'homme a marché sur la Lune (A Slightly Pregnant Man)

over the moon
by Douglas Messerli

Jacques Demy (writer and director) L'Événement le plus important depuis que l'homme a marché sur la Lune (A Slightly Pregnant Man) / 1973

Perhaps one of the strangest comedies ever committed to film, Jacques Demy’s L'Événement le plus important depuis que l'homme a marché sur la Lune (A Slightly Pregnant Man) stars Marcello Mastroianni as an increasingly pregnant man and Catherine Deneuve as his hairdresser wife.

     As much as I love Demy’s whimsical views of the world, this one is dead in its tracks from the very beginning, as driving school instructor Marco Mazetti (Mastrioianni) begins to suffer bouts of nausea, a desire for strawberries, and a growing belly. A trip to the doctors, the chain-smoking and increasingly incoherent Micheline Presle, sends him to a specialist who confirms that Mazetti is, indeed, the first male to become pregnant. 
        A similar “joke” was made in Rock Hudson’s role in the 1959 film, Pillow Talk; but there it was only a conceit, dreamed up by the writers perhaps just to tease those in the know about Hudson’s sexuality.  Hudson simply ducks into the gynecologist’s office to hide out from Doris Day, which intrigues both nurse and doctor. But here, Demy, a gay man (married to fellow director, Agnès Varda) takes it all the way, as the doctor determines his character’s pregnancy is the result of eating too much hormone-fed chicken, and Mastrioianni shares the  information with his wife and friends—who greet the fact with surprising equanimity—soon after serving as an national spokesman for a clothes designer determined to create a maternity wardrobe for men. 
       Several men even appear envious of his experience, and soon males from all over the world are reporting similar conditions.* One artist, a friend of a woman acquaintance, admits he has always wanted to have a baby. And the women joke that from now on they will all be better understood by their companions. 
       Like Demy’s previous movies, all of this fantasy is drolly handed out with bright colors and an occasional song. But as several critics have pointed out, since there is no tension between any of the characters, the “specialness” of the event is drained from the narrative, and we are allowed little delight in what otherwise might make for a series of charged statements either in defense or opposition to male birthing.

       Both Mastrioianni and Deneuve are so easygoing that they appear as if they reciting their lines instead of living through a kind of miracle. The only “thrill of it all” is that with the advertising money they can now afford to rent a larger hair-dressing shop and maybe even join businesses, with a small corner of the space devoted to Mazetti’s driving school. And, yes, now the couple, living together for years with a son from her previous marriage, will at last get married.
       In the days of French second-wave feminism and early gay liberation, and before gays could marry or adopt children, one can imagine that Demy dreamt up this fable to order to talk about his own desires for a male-centered domestic life. His and Varda’s own son, Mathieu, was born the year before he made this movie. 
     Yet, predictably, the movie can only disappoint, as Mazetti is finally told that his pregnancy has been only an hysterical one. And we remember that no man, not even on the moon, can have a baby by himself.
    And what might have played over into new LGBTQ territory remains as a simple heterosexual conceit.

*Billy Crystal underwent a similar trauma in the movie Rabbit Test.

Los Angeles, November 10, 2016


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