VOD film review: The New Man
Matthew Turner | On 26, Jan 2017
Director: Josh Appignanesi, Devorah Baum
Cast: Josh Appignanesi, Devorah Baum, John Berger, Antony Gormley, Slavoj Žižek, David Schneider, Sophie Fiennes, Zadie Smith
Watch The New Man online in the UK: Apple TV (iTunes) / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / Google Play
Best known for directing 2010’s The Infidel, thirty-something Josh Appignanesi begins this riveting and deeply moving British documentary as a creatively frustrated filmmaker in search of a new project. At the same time, he and his wife, academic Devorah Baum (also co-director), are desperately trying to conceive, with the aid of IVF and fertility treatment. When the pair finally get pregnant (with twins, no less), Josh embarks on a new film, documenting the pregnancy and indulging in some painfully honest soul-searching about whether he is really ready to be a father, and what it will mean for their lives.
Initially, Josh’s increasingly selfish bouts of hand-wringing are both comical and universal – he worries about whether he will be able to provide for the family, and about being shunted aside in the relationship, with “less cuddles, less sex, less intimacy”, once the children are born. As Devorah astutely comments, it’s really Josh that is the baby and Appignanesi doesn’t shy away from that comparison.
And then, tragically, something goes wrong and the film takes on an altogether different tone, as they face the prospect of potentially losing both babies. Partly out of a sense of helplessness and just giving himself something to do, Josh keeps the cameras rolling, recording often painfully intimate conversations with Devorah that are both devastating and yet instantly recognisable to anyone who has experienced similar agony.
As the pair attempt to get through the pregnancy, Appignanesi seeks counsel from those around him, including famous friends that include Antony Gormley, Slavoj Žižek and actor David Schneider. He also attempts to record their dinner party conversations, with his friends telling him more than once to “turn the bloody camera off”. In addition, Appignanesi conducts amusing interviews with his own parents, whose separation when he was five clearly had a deep effect on him.
With the couple’s camera constantly on hand, the film is filled with interesting details and observations, such as Devorah’s objectively fascinated summation of the changes in her brain chemistry, or musing about how strange it is to think that every single person has gone through the drama of being born. Similarly, Josh’s inherently selfish perspective leads to the provocative expression of some ideas that are rarely expressed on screen, particularly in regard to the male experience of pregnancy.
Though the film is mostly told through a combination of overheard conversation (including several emotive phone calls) and informal interviews, the film also makes strong use of some imaginative sound design (notably the frequent intrusion of an in utero heartbeat), as well as some distinctive captioning.
Ultimately, this is an engaging and profoundly moving piece of work that’s shot through with remarkable honesty. At certain times, Josh’s friends implore him to stop filming – you’ll be glad he and Devorah didn’t listen to them.