2018 Film Essays

How to Lose Control: Understanding Children and Insecurity with ‘The New Man’

“Anyone can make a baby. But who can make a film? That’s hard.” A friend of filmmaker Josh Appignanesi informs him of this fact — he might be joking, but it’s encouraging for The New Man, an honest and personal insight into Appignanesi’s process as a father-to-be and a curious and confused man with a camera. He’s not alone in the process — his partner Devorah Baum co-directs the film and co-makes the baby, too. 

The couple turns the camera on themselves in the documentary, revealing a naked honesty around the most difficult event of their lives. “It wasn’t clear what we were doing,” says Appignanesi about the inception of the project. “I had a camera and just started recording things a bit, just as an experiment.” From the start of the decision-making to the reckoning with eventual trauma, the camera remains on them. “For me, I thought this was something he needed,” Baum adds. 

The New Man chronicles the mundanities that everyone must go through at some point when they choose to have children. Instead of working as a mission towards a piece of filmmaking art, the product ends up defining a way of figuring out the process of life itself. “Maybe I felt a lack of control,” Appignanesi admits. “Devorah was making children, so I needed to make a film!”

There’s a great level of self-awareness in the couple’s circumstances, from the lack of understanding in alien situations — the conception of new human life — to the arduous process of making a film that mirrors the difficulties of masculinity in the everyday. “There’s a man who is feeling increasingly out of control of the situation,” Appignanesi says, “and we realised it reflects a feeling of redundancy that maybe men in general are having these days.” This allows The New Man to operate between laughs and more serious contemplation of insecurities and expectations that face contemporary masculinity.

It’s a candid exploration of things that cannot be controlled — which allows for a consistent learning process, rather than a metaphorical build-up towards any one “a-ha” moment. Whereas the film plays for laughs at first, toying with the mirrored trials of two halves of one team using “new reproductive technology” as the pair playfully describes it, what transpires by the end is a more moving portrait of family and grief.

Neither of them can watch the film now, as the process reveals a mandatory catharsis, but still not one that feels honed into something that relieves the struggle that got them there. “There’s a kind of nakedness,” Baum says. “I understood how overwhelmingly obsessed I was with the idea of having a baby.” In the editing process, the couple’s difficulties with the material revealed a deeper attachment to what was on the line. “It seemed to be about editing a second of footage, but it was clearly about the story we were both prepared to tell,” they admit. 

The film includes conversations with friends, warning the couple about expectations and fears, dos and don’ts of becoming parents. These get deserving chuckles and punctuate a general lack of control — but it soon gives way to something more personal. As events become more silent, the people chipping in do as well. It’s a brave thing to document your life when you don’t know where it’s going, and even more so when you know that you’ll have to go through the worst in the process.

To document a milestone that every single human goes through to get here, Josh and Devorah opened up their own lives to make sense of the future to come. They’re not sure if they’ll ever show it to their child, now much older. “It’s about being wanted, and it’s about trauma,” they explain. It’s an essential process now captured through an unfiltered time capsule. It’s difficult to verbalise but admirable to experience. Devorah asks me if I have children of my own — I don’t. “There’s got to be some kind of conspiracy — it’s hell to have a child and so amazing to get one!,” she says before warning me: “I can’t tell you what you’re in for.” Thanks to The New Man, we can at least try and watch. 

Ella Kemp (@efekemp) is a film critic and photographer based in London. She has a bachelor’s degree in Film & TV studies and maintains a passionate love for good design and great relationships on screen. She writes about film, TV and music for Little White Lies, the Independent and Into the Fold.

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