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Man for a Day: Film Review

Man for a Day Still - H 2012

The Bottom Line

Lighthearted but serious doc looks at gender issues without overemphasizing politics.

Venue

Montréal World Film Festival, Documentaries of the World

Director

Katarina Peters

Katarina Peters' doc focuses on a workshop designed to free women from the unseen ways in which acting like a woman hinders them.

MONTREAL — A journey into gender roles offering more humor and less provocation than wary filmgoers might expect, Katarina Peters's Man for a Day observes a workshop designed to free women from the unseen ways in which acting like a woman hinders them. Though it could have benefitted from a deeper examination or broader scope, the consistently engaging doc has potential in arthouses.

Diane Torr, who began her career as a dancer, became known in the late '80s for performance art involving cross dressing. As we see in vintage video footage, she quickly understood the subconscious body language and overt posturing that, almost as much as clothing and hairstyles, help us tell men from women on the street.

These days, Torr (with her alter ego, Danny King) holds workshops for women outside the art scene -- anyone intrigued by the notion that the balance of power between the sexes depends not only on historical momentum but on unseen ways of asserting one's authority. As Danny King demonstrates early on here, a man's walk can be described by saying that his foot owns whatever bit of earth it happens to occupy. (Torr recounts her early experiences walking as a man, seeing women make way for her as she once unwittingly did for men).

Not all men are alike, of course; for every strutting alpha male, there's a sensitive loner working hard not to stick out. But if Torr's approach requires a degree of overstatement, it's entertainingly varied in practice. In the Berlin workshop the doc observes, she coaches women of many shapes and personalities to invent very specific characters -- spending a long time evaluating possible wardrobes, inventing backstories, and learning how much difference a bit of glued-one facial hair can make.

It's both amusing and thought-provoking to watch these women stalk the streets, covertly analyzing male postures and trying to make them their own. The goal is for each to finally venture out in public, interacting with strangers as men; Torr believes the experience will carry over into students' lives once the trousers and stuffed underwear have been put back in the closet.

Viewers will almost surely wish Peters would show us more footage from this final stage of the class, letting us judge the illusion through the eyes of those who are being fooled. But it's hard to argue with the director's choice to spend so much time in the rehearsal room, where every bit of practical advice -- don't smile so much; don't fear being loud; don't make statements using the intonation of questions -- provokes new questions about the way men and women interact even in societies that aspire to full equality.

Production Company: Katarina Peters Filmproduktion
Director-Screenwriter-Producer: Katarina Peters
Directors of photography: Susanna Salonen, Yoliswa Gärtig, Katarina Peters
Music: Jan Tilman Schade, Gudrun Gut
Editor: Friederike Anders, Jana Teuchert
Sales: First Hand Films
No rating, 100 minutes.