By Jessica Gover (Rochester, NY)
In Eleonore Pourriat’s culturally abrasive film, I Am Not an Easy Man, Damien, a chauvinistic male, finds himself transported into an alternate dimension where he becomes a second class citizen at the hands of women. For Pourriat, the actress turned writer and director, the challenging of gender stereotypes are a familiar subject as evidenced in her previous work, Oppressed Majority.
The film begins with an lackluster introduction in which Damien is seen as a young child being mocked by classmates and parents alike for portraying the character Snow White in a local school play in order to impress a crush. It can be assumed that this scene is the thinly veiled effort of the director to showcase the stereotypes society imposes on its children from a young age. Fast forward and the adult version of Damien can be seen commanding a conference room with his demonstration of the lewdly named app, the “boner-o-meter” to allow men to track the number of times sex is had with women, with the ability to compare on a year to year basis. Only one female is present within this meeting, who becomes the subject of collective heckling for her objection to the degrading content.
It is the result of a collision with a street pole, courtesy of Damien’s inability to pass up the opportunity to ogle a woman in a short skirt, which serves as the catalyst to his transportation to the previously mentioned alternate dimension. He soon finds himself forced to adapt to a world in which men are expected to dress for appeal rather than comfort, where “garbage men” have become “garbage women,” and a fondness for flannel is referred to as “lumberjane” rather than “lumberjack”.
The relationship between Damien and Alexandra Lamour, an internationally renowned, but emotionally distant bestselling author currently experiencing writer’s block, characterized by her penchant for one night stands and abhorrence of commitment, quickly becomes the main focus of the remaining plot. In the beginning, Damien is purely a fleeting interest to Alexandra, who views his assertions of a male dominated world to be outlandish at best. Confronting mounting gambling debts, with debtors closing in, Alexandra decides to embrace the ideal, making Damien the subject of her next book, covertly recording their every interaction. As her connection with Damien grows, an internal struggle within Alexandra becomes evident, as she must choose between the book with its promise of financial freedom, and the newfound feelings she finds herself having for Damien.
Feminism and the challenging of cultural norms is not a new area for Pourriat. In the previously mentioned film, the Oppressed Majority, which sharply parallels that of I Am Not an Easy Man, a stay at home dad finds himself similarly transported into an alternate universe, where he becomes the victim of sexual assault at the hands of the female majority. The short film, which received little attention within its native France, gained international accolades after being released on YouTube with English subtitles. The popularity garnered the attention of streaming service Netflix, which approached Pourriat with its intention to expand Oppressed Majority into a feature length, streaming- only movie.
Building upon the previous success, Pourriat incorporates elements observed in Oppressed Majority such as an unapologetic fondness for nudity on the part of female actresses and the prevalence of expletives. The presence of nudity initially presents as a shock to the American viewer unaccustomed to female breasts being on display in the manner favored by the director. This proves to be a critical element to the appreciation of the film as it examines the sexualization of the female body in comparison to males, in which the action of being shirtless would be unlikely to garner a similar response. A noticeable difference is the incorporation of American produced musical soundtracks, likely reflecting the country of origin of sponsor Netflix, as well as the expected audience.
The conclusion of I Am Not an Easy Man, does not leave the viewer with the happily ever after the American film industry promises. Instead, the viewer is left empty, unfulfilled, and utterly shocked by the explicit nature of the “romantic comedy” as the film is advertised as. It presents an assault upon the masculine cultures present in today’s world. As such, Pourriat presents a film unlikely to receive mass acceptance, but becomes all the more important because of its relevance to the feminist movement. It is a film that society does not want, but is a film that society needs in order to reevaluate its stance on gender equality. Highly recommended.