The Truth About Men

The Truth About Men

**1/2

Reviewed by: Chris

Some films just shouldn’t have subtitles. But having said that, The Truth About Men manages to be surprisingly engaging, competently acted and occasionally quirky.

After an offbeat opening sequence where a young lad watches a sex-education video with mum’s approval, we launch into the life of Mads, a 34-year-old once-famous screenwriter who’s now sadly slipped down the ladder to being a script-assistant for a TV series. Marie, his partner of ten years, gives a touching housewarming speech. She radiates conjugal bliss, yet this is soon unmasked when we learn Mads is dissatisfied with life, the universe and, in particular, his job and his partner. “I’ve spent ten years writing scripts based on a dramaturgical curve. I live with a woman that I have nothing in common with.” Having faced himself, he walks out on the job, to discover deeper truth and fulfilment. He walks out on Marie (who, in what seems like a self-conscious cliché, is now pregnant), to search for the spontaneity he felt in a momentary youthful kiss. In a novel mise-en-scene, we see Mads and Marie in three rooms at once, as the camera pans across their house. This seems to sum up their relationship of co-existing moods - anger and argument, routine sex, and reasoning and tears.

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Mads analyses his life the way he analyses a script. He often replays scenes in his head with different dialogue – to see if there could have been better outcomes. Whilst attractive (haven’t we all done it at times?) this device is overdone, fantasy repeatedly inserting itself only to jump back to the main story. Yet it remains sufficiently novel and accessible for what is after all light romantic comedy. Mads sleeps with one woman after another, looking for the elusive magic anywhere except inside himself.

The cleverest part of the film is maybe the initial juxtaposition of a formula for male happiness against Mads’ self-absorbed and superficial approach to life. Says a reassuring Danish woman’s voice: “The man primarily thinks of his own needs when having sex. Which is only natural. But if he wants to be a really good lover and satisfy his wife, he must learn to set his own needs aside and focus on hers.” Unfortunately, Mads is stereotyped in the process as a selfish pig, and the many opportunities for saying something profound are bypassed as surely as any originality in our protagonist’s TV-drama-by-numbers.

After a couple of false epiphanies, predicted by his own ‘dramaturgical curve’, Mads seeks remedy according to his own rules of scriptwriting. This is the major flaw, as traditional ‘happy ending scripts’ frequently involve unrealistic, contrived, external and unnatural plot developments: the hopeless case becomes good, the light dawns after exactly 90 minutes, or our failed character succeeds with merely a wing and prayer. “You can’t write about the truth when you’re aiming for it,” says his friend, perhaps a little too pointedly to suit the filmmakers’ intentions.

If the movie had used its sometimes creative techniques to underline a self-referential failing, then The Truth About Men might work as a comment on the formulaic nature of mainstream cinema. Instead, our hero finds his ‘Zekaya’ – the magical fulfilment of dreams - not by any deep introspection, but by the very weakness that makes many a Hollywood movie unbelievable. Whilst such a plot device might have seemed intellectually satisfying to a film’s scriptwriter, this is no Kaufmanesque intertextual mind-bender like Stranger Than Fiction or Synecdoche, New York. It merely undermines our ability to believe the unbelievable.

What began as arty-looking cinema, backed up by good performances, is let down by weak plot development. This Danish offering has an easy charm that might satisfy audiences that avoid subtitles; but its inability to deliver anything profound makes its early promise seem hollow. This is romcom that works best in the country corresponding to the dialogue’s language and, for this reason, it might be ripe for American re-make in the course of time.

Reviewed on: 14 Jun 2011
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A scriptwriter struggles to find a successful narrative for his own life in this ambitious romantic comedy.
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Director: Nikolaj Arcel

Writer: Lars Kaalund, Nikolaj Arcel

Starring: Thure Lindhardt, Tuva Novotny, Rosalinde Mynster, Signe Egholm Olsen, Henning Valin Jakobsen

Year: 2010

Runtime: 98 minutes

Country: Denmark

Festivals:

EIFF 2011

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