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Review: Josh Appignanesi and Devorah Baum’s ‘The New Man’

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Life — pulsing, exuberant life. It is because of our parents that we are here, and because of us that our children have begun to spring into existence. Profound words? Certainly not, but new life represents, perhaps, the only one thing that connects us all. Josh Appignanesi and Devorah Baum’s meta-documentary The New Man explores the most basic and frustrating element of human relationships — what it means to become a parent.

While co-writing/directing credits have been given to Baum, and rightfully so, Appignanesi is undoubtedly the focus of his documentary. Through a voyage into impending fatherhood, the co-director films himself and his expectant wife as they hurdle challenge after challenge on their route towards the heart of creation. From their wedding to fertility treatments and all the way through to the miracle of birth, Appignanesi bears all in his quest to understand nature’s most fundamental purpose.

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The director’s own forthrightness is, at once, both refreshing and perplexing. Appignanesi’s many failings as a husband endeavor to humanize him as the protagonist, but also display the willful stubbornness of a man who refuses to change his attitude. While taking a trip to coastal Spain that coincides with Devorah’s 20-week prenatal scan, Appignanesi acknowledges that the trip was likely a mistake, but his selfishness does not allow him to back down from such a frolicking good time. Some viewers may scoff at Josh’s obvious failing, but, to those of us with similar deficiencies, this moment truly resonates. If hindsight is 20/20, another person’s miscalculations are 20/10. In a scene that will likely leave a target demographic enraptured for reasons of profound consequence, it’s Appignanesi’s recognitions of his own faults as a husband that provide the greatest sense of empathy.

Interestingly enough, and relating again to Baum’s co-creative credits, most of her feelings about the terrors of pregnancy (and of becoming a mother) are relayed via her husband’s voice. Through phone calls to loved ones and emotional talks with close friends, Appignanesi shares how his wife has been feeling about everything — at least his conception of what she has expressed to him. Knowing the feelings of the partner to which you have intimately tied your life is, undoubtedly, a priority in any relationship. But as this sense of inference grows, so does blatant presupposition. Being so close to someone inevitably leads to the projection of emotions and sentiments, yet Appignanesi seems ignorant to this fact. Whether aware of his “voice of the household” bravado or not, simply displaying it so freely is enough to alert those with similar habits (it is always easier to diagnose other people’s relationship failings) to their own shortcomings.

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Even if Appignanesi and Baum’s film feels closed off and unrelatable, The New Man still represents the priceless documentation of a couple’s struggle to continue their family tree. As a rumination on the struggle to reconcile love for oneself and one’s partner with the love of a soon-to-be child, this family-centered documentary seeks to alleviate its director’s fears at the thought of becoming a father, while comforting others who find themselves in similar situations. Open discussions about the cluelessness of life — its infinite blessings and cruelties — become the tools with which The New Man assures others that none of us have any idea as to what’s going on. And that this is perfectly okay.

Jordan Brooks (@viewtoaqueue) is an increasingly-snobby cinephile based out of London, England. As a contributor to several online publications, including his own blog, he has succeeded in fulfilling his life long dream of imposing strong opinions on others.

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