Man Of My Life, The (2006): Zabou Breitman’s Second Film, A Straight Man and a Homo

L’Homme de Sa Vie (French Film_

Toronto Film Fest 2006–“The Man of My Life,” the second film from Zabou Breitman, the actress turned director, has a good cast, it stars Bernard Campan, Charles Berling, and La Drucker, but it is not as good as her feature debut,

Grade: B (** out of *****)

The film premiered as an official selection of last year’s Toronto Film Fest, then played a number of gay festivals, such as Newfest and Outfest, and at this year’s edition of Rendez-Vous With French Cinema. It is now being released by the entrepreneurial Strand, one of the few keepers of the foreign-language flame in the U.S.

Gay Directors, Gay Films? By Emanuel Levy (Columbia University Press, August 2015).

“Man of My Life,” whose English title is not entirely accurate translation of the French (it should be “The Man of Her Life”) strikes as a minor work about new gender roles and sexual politics, the kind of feature that French cinema has been making year after year.

Though more experimental in form, visual style, and narrative than her debut, ultimately “Man of My Life” is a disappointing work, displaying problems that usually burden first films: Self-consciousness, pretentious artiness, and excessive style at the expense of substance.

Thematically, “Man of My Life” explores the evolving bond between a married hetero and a gay guy, who initially could not have been more different.

The setting is familiar from works by Louis Malle, Bertrand Tavernier, and others. The middle-aged but still handsome Fredric (Bernard Campan), his attractive wife Fredrique (La Drucker), and their brood are spending yet another summer in their family house in the gorgeously verdant Provenale countryside.

Enter Hugo (the versatile Charles Berling, one of the busiest actors in France), a solitary gay man who has moved in next door. After a convivial dinner, Fredric and Hugo stay up on the terrace until dawn, exchanging their radically different visions of love. Unaware of their exchange, Fredrique notices a distance growing  between her and her husband. Indeed, a powerful bond developing between Fredric and Hugo, a camaraderie that increasingly grows stronger.

Zabou Breitman and her co-writer Agnes de Sacy offer a detached perspective (from the outside) on the “peculiar” manner in which the two men think about themselves and other men, and also about sex, friendship, family, responsibility and commitment.

Frederique, a wife who’s confident of her husband’s devotion to her, gives some unconvincing monologues. Later on, her nude scene is touching, conveying the desperation of a wife to continue to be loved and hang onto her drifting hubby.

American viewers, particularly males, may find it strange, if refreshing, that Fredric and Hugo do not discuss typically American macho concerns, such as work and sports, but the more “feminine” type, like sex, desire, love and marriage.

The characterizations is not very deep, and the construction of the gay character is particularly disappointing for a French film. Hugo comes across as a type of 1970s cinema, an ostracized homosexual, expelled from his family by a morally rigid and conservative father, who’s also a stereotype.

Fredric’s attraction to Hugo and the new concerns and doubts raised by this accidental friendship add an interesting dimension to the film, showing again the inevitable but real impact of randomly formed associations.

The scenes in the French countryside’ old summerhouse are amiable and authentic, even if we have seen them before in many Gallic works. While the acting is good, the stylistic devices, impressive as most are, often call too much attention to themselves.

At 113 minutes, this narrowly-minded, intimately focused film extends its welcome by at least 20 minutes.

Cast

Frederic – Bernard Campan
Hugo – Charles Berling
Frederique – Lea Drucker

Credits

MPAA: R
Running time: 113 Minutes.

Pan-Europeene, France 3 Cinema, Rhones-Alpes Cinema, StudioUrania production in association with Sofica Europacorp, Carrimages 2, with participation of Canal Plus, CineCinema, Region Rhone-Alpes, Centre National de la Cinematographie.
Produced by Philippe Godeau.
Executive producer, Jean-Yves Asselin.
Directed by Zabou Breitman.
Screenplay, Breitman, Agnes de Sacy.
Camera: Michel Amathieu.
Editor: Richard Marizy.
Music: Laurent Korcia, Liviu Badiu.
Sound: Michel Kharat.