Josh Appignanesi is best known as the director of the hit comedy The Infidel, but for his third feature, The New Man, he teams up with his wife, Devorah Baum, to bring us a ‘creative documentary’ which charts the couple’s decision to have a child in their late thirties.
Appignanesi and Baum share a successful and secure life, but the biological imperative begins to override their intellectual fulfilment and material comfort to create a sense of urgency. Feeling overwhelmed by the process, Appignanesi retreats into his comfort zone: he begins filming everything. After multiple rounds of IVF, the couple succeed in getting pregnant. But when complications occur, the strain brings them to the brink of their marriage and sanity.
The Redeeming Medium
The director in Appignanesi is immediately to the fore in The New Man; the film’s first half has an eye for style, with experimental flourishes and conspicuous compositions. Indeed, it feels at times like a Joanna Hogg drama about two solipsistic suburban sophisticates struggling to comprehend the enormity of the decision they’ve made.
For Appignanesi , the medium serves as ‘a prism through which I see everything’ which ‘redeems everything’; reducing himself to the status of observer, speaking to our relationship with technology and the tendency to see life in narrative terms. But as the tone darkens, this sense of self-consciousness gives way to something genuinely moving which addresses concerns deeper than Appignanesi ‘s fear of being ‘usurped’ and the impending death of his creative life.
I’m Being That
The New Man explores the phenomenon of self-aware parenting, of a generation that, as comedian David Schneider points out, is able to step back and say: ‘I’m being that’. In his quest for answers to the riddle of paternity, Josh calls on thinkers and creators like Slavoj Žižek, John Berger and Antony Gormley; all of whom seem equally awestruck and perplexed by the tangential role men play in the drama of birth.
There is significant insight into Appignanesi ‘s anxieties about being ‘a totally useless father’ in his interaction with his father, Richard; with whom he shares a somewhat uneasy relationship that is apparent in their guarded exchanges here. We also locate the possible precedent for Appignanesi‘s proclivity to share publicly in his mother – writer Lisa Appignanesi – using her recollections of young Appignanesi in her work. These contrasting parental approaches are evident in the ambivalence that plagues Appignanesi throughout his journey of self-revelation.
The New Man is a work which seeks to address the concerns of a generation of men who no longer seem sure what their role as a father should be; for whom the old archetypes offer nothing but further uncertainty; struggling to shake off the reverberations of a paradigm which placed a premium on reasserting a reductive model of masculinity.
Throughout The New Man there is a push and pull between the comfort of old patterns and a dawning abnegation. Appignanesi and Baum detail the birth pangs, often to Appignanesi’s own humiliation and discredit. What emerges is a work which veers precariously close to collapsing under the weight of its bourgeois naval gazing, but succeeds in redeeming itself in an ascendant sincerity.
Appignanesi and Baum capture the agonising process of having childish things ripped from one’s grasp. Once it settles into a consistent balance between the filmic construct and the lives on which it draws, The New Man becomes a fascinating insight into modern fatherhood, male identity, cultural expectation and the torturous path of late parenthood. It is a gift from Baum to the man she describes as her ‘baby’, ‘wild animal’, ‘domestic pet’, ‘friend’, ‘foe’, ‘teacher’ and ‘shrink’; the touching tale of three babies growing together.
What are your thoughts on The New Man‘s depiction of modern fatherhood?
The New Man was released in cinemas and on VOD in the UK on the 18th of November.
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