"MARRIAGES CONCERN FOUR people," Simon tells his cousin David, who's just gotten hitched. "In addition to the man and woman, there's a man in woman, a woman in man. Things get mysterious . . . exciting, too." So sets the sexual (and linguistic) ambiguities in Jean-Jacques Zilbermann's Man Is a Woman, a French-Yiddish comedy that centers around an overgrown slacker-
musician, Simon (Antoine de Caunes), who is pressured by his family to marry and breed. Problem no. 1: He's gay. Problem no. 2: Zilbermann's script seems rather confused about his protagonist's bent.
Man Is a Woman was a box-office hit in France. No wonder. In a time when the conversion movement has been bandied about in the press, the movie rides in a comfortable zone. It presents a likable character whose homosexuality, while more visible (as it's become in our enlightened times), is ultimately proven to be mutable.
Man is a Woman
directed by Jean-Jacques Zilbermann
starring Antoine de Caunes
plays March 20 at the King Cat Theater
Unlike Ang Lee's 1993 The Wedding Banquet, where the gay bridegroom hid his homosexuality from his Taiwanese parents, Simon's family knows from the start that he's gay. Hence it seems rather insidious—not just typically ignorant—when his mother tells him that he just needs the right kind of woman, and when his rich Uncle Sol promises to will him 10 million francs if he produces an heir to carry on the family name. Simon at first balks at the offer, but then later gives in, after meeting Rosalie, a pretty, long-haired singer. It's a problematic development
for a movie in which the first half-hour practically shouts that Simon is gay (it opens with a shot of him cruising men in a steam parlor; Simon tries to seduce David at the wedding; he snaps at his mother, declaring that gayness is not a "handicap").
Man Is a Woman is certainly not a bad film; it just could have been better and truer to the issues that it presents. Loaded messages aside, the movie is full of cheerful comedy that is delivered with precision by its principals. Antoine de Caunes comes off as a sly wit, whose lines are rapid and resonant. The interactions between Simon and his mother, Simon and Rosalie, and Simon and Rosalie's Hasidic family in Brooklyn, are enjoyable and worth the time spent in the theater. Plus, there are all the idiosyncrasies of a non-American movie, such as shots of indoor cigarette smoking: We see Simon smoking in the sauna, smoking in the bath, smoking while he's getting his blood pressure taken. But as far as the relationship between Rosalie and Simon goes, it's an undefined mess. One minute, Simon lusts after Rosalie's gay brother, a dark, curly-headed wet dream of a figure who strips down to his underwear and sighs to Simon, "You're so much my type, I could die." The next minute, Simon tells his uncle that he wants to have lots of children with Rosalie.
Perhaps Zilbermann was aiming to portray the heady confusion of one in love—in love with the ideas of marriage, family, eternity. However, as far as one can tell, all Simon really wants is a quickie with a hard body.