Men Show Movies and Women Their Breasts: Turin Review
A young female film director tackles gender politics at the Cannes film festival in this slight but resourceful docu-comedy.
Caustic comedies about the internal politics of the movie business tend to be made by jaded elder statesmen who have been through the Hollywood machine, as in Robert Altman’s The Player or Barry Levinson’s What Just Happened. But this satirical docu-fiction from the young German writer-director Isabell Šuba offers a more refreshing outsider’s perspective, lampooning both the narcissism of aspiring film-makers and the pomposity of the power brokers who decide their fate.
Shot guerrilla-style in just five days at the rain-soaked Cannes film festival, Šuba’s low-budget feature inevitably feels a little raw. But its subject matter should ensure further festival bookings, especially those with interest in LGBT and feminist themes. While commercial prospects will be slender, the prickly in-joke humor may appeal to niche distributors and Europhile cineastes overseas.
In an inspired piece of lateral thinking, Šuba conceived her debut feature following an invitation to screen her short film Chica XX Mujer in Cannes in 2012. First she cast an actor to impersonate her at the festival, with Anne Haug not only taking her Cannes pass but also attending screenings and conducting interviews in character. Sharing cramped accommodation outside town, the fictionalized Isabell and her inept producer David (Šuba’s real-life co-producer Matthias Weidenhöfer) bicker like an old married couple as they miss meetings, gatecrash parties, pitch projects to potential funders and hook up with ex-lovers. Self-referential documentary blurs into semi-improvised drama.
For anyone who has ever attended Cannes on a tight budget, Šuba’s film will be a painfully accurate reminder of the panicky desperation and pushy careerism that lies behind the razzle-dazzle surface glamor. But beyond that narrow audience demographic, Men Show Movies and Women Their Breasts is a well-observed behind-the-scenes satire with a playfully deadpan tone akin to TV comedies such as Extras or Curb Your Enthusiasm. Among the film’s pleasures are its dreamy piano score, its non-fiction cameos by passing celebrities and festival freaks, and its punchy close-up shots of Isabell and David grooming themselves before heading out to fight for their careers.
Less impressively, Šuba’s freewheeling micro-budget comedy feels like a scrappy home movie in places. It also never quite delivers the feminist sting implicit in its title, since critique of movie industry sexism is only a minor part of the comic mix, and there are arguably more unsympathetic females than males among the tight cast of characters. A sharper focus and some bigger targets might have elevated Men Show Movies and Women Their Breasts from enjoyable DIY experiment to heavy-hitting satire. Then again, as a disdainful TV executive says in one of the film’s most brutal pitching scenes, “a good title is half the battle.”
Production company: Beauty Killed The Beast
Producers: Matthias Weidenhöfer, Isabell Šuba
Starring: Anne Haug, Matthias Weidenhöfer, Eva Bay
Director: Isabell Šuba
Writers: Isabell Šuba, Lisa Glock
Cinematographer: Johannes Louis
Editor: Clemens Walter
Music: Hektor Marroquin, Tubbe
Sales company: HFF Konrad Wolf, Potsdam-Babelsberg
Unrated, 83 minutes