IFFR 07: Getting Started & The Ick Factor

AMan'sJob.jpgAs of the end of my day on February 1st, I’ve seen all or part of 15 films in my 5 days of screenings which for those of you familiar with my past festival behavior must seem like I’ve been kidnapped by aliens. Not only that but, I’ve not bought or smoked any cannabinoids, have been up before 9am every day and was back at my hotel before midnight every day but one. But enough about me….cinema!
I started my fest off, oddly enough, with three films in a row whose titles begin with “Man.” A Man to Remember (more on this recently discovered 1938 gem in a future post), A Man’s Job and The Man Of No Return and rather than bore you with lengthy reviews of films that should best be avoided, I’ll just say that A Man Of No Return should have stayed away. Normally I’d also ignore A Man’s Job as a film to be, well, ignored but I feel compelled to comment on a particular element of this film.

Aleksi Salmenperä’s A Man’s Job, a Finnish family drama is slightly better as a film but contains two of the most unsettling and exploitative scenes I’ve seen in recent years. Juha, husband and father of three young children, is willing to go to extraordinary lengths in order to support his family after he loses his job and quickly becomes a male prostitute, usually for “mature” women. Eventually he accepts other clients, one of them being a girl with Down syndrome, which besides being disturbing as a plot element, raises serious suspicions of abuse on the part of the filmmaker.
Let me make this clear, this objection is not about disabled actors. Jaco van Dormael’s Le Huitième Jouris a gem of a film and Pascal Duquenne who has Down’s was a marvel in his performance for which he shared the best actor award at the in1996 Cannes Film Festival with Daniel Auteuil and it’s fantastic when people with Down’s enter the mainstream workforce. However, when you get into situations of a sexual nature, I think you’re crossing the line. Just because the actress is physically an adult, does that mean it’s ok to put her in sexual situations? In this film, that is naked in a bathtub with Juha, a “normal” man, sharing a kiss. I mean, does the actress really understand what it means to be naked on the screen? Does she know how many people will potentially be seeing her? I found it distasteful and exploitative in the extreme.
As for the film, it was….ok. Not bad, not great. The film’s main storyline, that of a man lying to his wife about losing his job and becoming a gigolo in order to pay the family’s bills is far too convenient a plot device and not at all original. Not only that, Juha morphs rather seamlessly from a woodworker to novice gigolo to veteran whore, all the while lying to his family and virtually enslaving his best friend Olli as his driver (and fellow conspirator). Olli is (natch) in love with Juha’s wife Katja and is also the real father to Juha’s eldest son. Clearly an attempt at a family drama with an original spin (man as prostitute rather than vice versa) A Man’s Job ends up being a rather predictable and poorly paced film with a considerable ick factor. Performances are the film’s lone high point with excellent turns by Tommi Korpela as Juha, Maria Heiskanen as the all-too-patient Katja and Jani Volanen as the hangdog Olli.

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