“I Am Not an Easy Man” (Je Ne Suis Pas Un Homme Facile) is a film I shouldn’t like—but do. Netflix’s first commissioned French-language film, it dives into the easy laugh every time: a little boy cast as Snow White, a male waxing scene, and men strapping on silicone breasts as they march for gender equality. Uneasily shifting between comedy and drama, never landing the tone of either, it tries for mass appeal and never completely succeeds.
Where it does succeed, though, is as a sort of mind experiment. The film’s writer-director Éléonore Pourriat has directed several films (including the short “Oppressed Majority”) that challenge how gendered bodies occupy public space in film—and the consequences of gendered power.
As in her short, Pourriat depicts women as the sexual aggressors and race car drivers while men serve as secretaries and stay-at-home parents. Women jog topless through the streets while in the brasseries and back alleys men are the targets of harassment and sexual assault. It’s a breathtaking view of female freedom. None of the women seem afraid. And much of the film’s power derives not from the initial curiosity of these reversals but that, after 50 minutes, it no longer seems curious at all.
Pourriat moves us into this parallel universe early in the film, and the ultimate effect is that the viewer acculturates just as our protagonist Damien (Vincent Elbaz) does. Eventually, these reversals seem normal, inevitable even, and finally grim. Her palette in both worlds is one of steely grays and muted blues, pierced only by a pink skirt in an LGBTQ nightclub or the hot pink strap on a man’s gym bag. The film, ultimately, is less about gender reversal and more about power. It depicts a matriarchal society every bit as violent as a patriarchal society. Domination is domination, not empowerment.
Once Pourriat grounds us in this new world and holds us there, she reminds us how difficult it is to love and trust fully in a relationship where one partner is objectified and replaceable while the other has society’s blessing to do as they please, damn the other person’s feelings.
I knew she would have to summon Damien back to our own world. But I couldn’t figure out how she would do it. The ending is imperfect, abrupt, and it reveals her interest in Alexandra (Marie-Sophie Ferdane)—the woman at the center of the film beside Damien. The Herculean “authoress” (the film even attempts to undercut the sexism of language itself) dashes out onto the streets of Paris after a barfight only to find herself in a foreign world, astounded by our pornographication of women.
I can’t help but think the film should have been about Alexandra. The final moment of Damien joining a women’s rights march is too on-the-nose, too pat, easy after all. It’s wish fulfillment for the #MeToo movement. But then again, this film is not about subtlety. It’s about hope for two characters who have each had their turn being oppressors and now have a chance to be equals.