CLFF Review: All the Women


 | 2013 | 90 min.
Director: Mariano Barroso
 with English subtitles

Mariano Barroso (Director) is scheduled to attend the screening

Sunday, April 13, 2014, 8:30 pm at AMC River East 21

Shown with The Mother   


There are few things more irritating than men who constantly rely on the “I’m so troubled…won’t you help me?” maneuver to get themselves out of trouble, to convince someone—yes, usually a woman—that they’re too depressed, too much of an alcoholic, too helpless to take care of themselves, let alone care about another person. The ploy (whether it’s used to bail on a friendly hangout or a serious marriage) is transparent, and most adult women can see right through it.

Not so in Spanish director Mariano Barroso’s Todas las mujeres—billed as a “douche-bag guy gets his comeuppance” flick—which asks women viewers for a serious suspension of disbelief. Not only does the film not live up to the pro-woman hype: It really scrapes the bottom of the barrel with a plot that’s little more than an Iberian twist on the Manic Pixie Dream Girl trope we all know and hate.

Now don’t get me wrong. The Spanish former television series, pieced together into a feature-length picture for cinema audiences, is entertaining. The dialogue of forty-something-man-child protagonist Nacho (the only man in the film, portrayed flawlessly by Eduard Fernández) and the crackpot scheme Nacho hatches with his intern/mistress to steal five bullocks—castrated bulls—from the farm where Nacho serves as veterinarian, which also happens to belong to his father-in-law. The pair plan to drive the animals to the Portuguese border, where they’ll sell them for twice what they’re worth in Spain.

But when there’s a minor (and then major) hiccup in the scheme, Nacho is driven even further into douchebag mode and turns to all the women in his life—his soon-to-be-ex-wife, mistress, lawyer ex-girlfriend, mother and sister-in-law—to help him hide his involvement in the robbery and avoid responsibility for the crime that could land him two years in jail. All rise to the occasion, providing Nacho with love, sex, money, company and validation. And after comforting the man who has clearly done irreparable damage to all of their lives, they all give him the same fuck-you send-off: “You’re a manipulative, selfish prick,” the paraphrased chorus repeats, “who refuses to take responsibility for his actions or their impacts on other people.” But we as viewers are expected to believe that all of these high-powered women—his wealthy mother, sex-kitten mistress, attorney ex, coupled-off sister-in-law—would make amends and still help Nacho along in his quest to avoid owning up to the crime, if not always exactly the way he’d like them to. And to be fair, that they aren’t willing to cater to Nacho’s every whim seems to be the filmmakers’ nod to the common-sense assumption that women don’t exist for men (though we don’t see any of them after they’re out of Nacho’s line of sight).

Only when Nacho attempts to con a woman psychiatrist into helping him avoid jail—though his estranged wife’s family has yet to renounce him for the theft, and he refuses to consider a preemptive apology—does he begin, thanks to her no-nonsense guidance and refusal to be manipulated, to evaluate his actions and consider telling the truth about his role in the robbery.

Director Barroso and company attempt to send a positive message with the film: People can change; men can be immature and manipulative—but there’s goodness in everyone; the truth will set you free. Etc., etc., etc.

Which is all fine. Except in Nacho’s case, he needs the women in his life to fix him. He can’t see what’s wrong with his behavior without a woman pointing it out first. And he certainly can’t begin to correct said behavior alone, or in this case, without assistance from the shrink who stares at him doe-eyed while he makes his “break through.” And that deforms the film’s “positive” take-away to: Women exist for the benefit of men—to guide them along when they lose their little heads over something silly, like 30,000 euro in stolen livestock, earmarked for running away to Portugal with a 20-year-old. The resolution of the cattle-thief’s story line implies that the poor women who were already in Nacho’s life are too weak, too predisposed to give a shit about him to do anything to give him the slap on the wrist he so sorely needs.

And in my head, that twist translates into a more sinister presupposition: If a man is fucked up, immature, and selfish, it’s the fault of the women in his life for not mommying him well enough. Women are to blame. Because we exist for the benefit of men—to take care of and nurture them. And when a man does something terrible to you—cheats, lies, steals or what have you—it’s probably “his woman’s” fault.

Give me a break.

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