Chloe Walker from the Phoenix Picturehouse, Oxford previews this week’s Discover Tuesdays presentation The New Man.
Filmmaker Josh Appignanesi (best known for his 2010 feature The Infidel) is struggling to find work. He decides to make a documentary charting the progress of his wife Devorah’s IVF and subsequent pregnancy. It begins innocuously, as Josh discusses his concerns about impending fatherhood with his friends and family. Then Devorah’s pregnancy takes a devastating turn, and the film becomes something altogether more personal and intimate.
There are very few life events that are seen only through the lens of women in cinema, but pregnancy has generally been one of them. It makes sense, of course – it is, after all, the woman who it happens to. Nevertheless, The New Man covers pregnancy from the male point of view, with all the mystified befuddlement, jealousy and fear that it brings, and the result is a valuable new perspective.
Appignanesi’s documentary should be commended for its honesty: the father-to-be makes many admissions over its course that could be interpreted as anything from insensitive to downright childish. With his male friends he discusses his envy of the baby, and fear of being ‘usurped’ by it. He worries that once it has been born he will have ‘less sex, less cuddles, less intimacy’. He’s even on holiday in Spain with a friend when his wife is having her vital 20-week scan. It takes a certain bravery to put oneself in such an unflattering light and the film is richer for his truthfulness.
Another theme of this film is just that: film. The lack of work adds to Appignanesi’s sense of redundancy about the encroaching baby. He’s a filmmaker in search of a film, without which he has lost his raison d’être. This seems infantilising, but making a film gives Josh something to do whilst Devorah is busy making their baby. After the 20-week scan, and that tragic news, the film takes on an even more vital role in his life; as Appignanesi said in an interview with The Guardian, “Sometimes all I could do was turn the camera on.”
Character development is discussed more in relation to narrative features than non-fiction, yet it’s the whole point of The New Man. It takes its title quite literally: over the course of the film you see Appignanesi transform from a scared, selfish little boy to a man who isn’t afraid to put his child ahead of himself. Its power is in being allowed to share on this journey, and that creates an experience of quiet magnitude.