Oscar winner Adrien Brody and Jesse Eisenberg bring men in crisis to Berlin film fest

'Manodrome' revolves around a cult leader who persuades desperate men to cut ties with the women in their lives

By AFP

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Jesse Eisenberg and Adrien Brody at the Berlinale
Jesse Eisenberg and Adrien Brody at the Berlinale

Published: Sun 19 Feb 2023, 10:22 AM

Last updated: Sun 19 Feb 2023, 10:41 AM

Hollywood actors Jesse Eisenberg and Adrien Brody star as American men caught up in a global crisis of masculinity in Manodrome, which premiered Saturday at the Berlin film festival.

The thriller by South African director John Trengrove is one of the most keenly awaited of the 19 features vying for the event's Golden Bear top prize, to be awarded February 25 by jury president Kristen Stewart.

Manodrome features Brody as "Dad Dan", a cult leader who persuades desperate men, often losers of US capitalism, to cut the ties with the women in their lives.

Eisenberg, who became famous playing Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg in The Social Network, is nearly unrecognisable as pumped-up hobby bodybuilder Ralphie.

When he loses his factory job and runs into trouble supporting himself and his pregnant girlfriend, Ralphie succumbs to Dan's pitch to join the "Manodrome" -- an all-male space at his home.

Trengrove, who made a splash in 2017 with the male initiation movie The Ritual, said such men's groups were running rampant around a world he said was "underfathered".

"I think a big crisis that we face now is men... don't learn or acquire basic life skills, how to deal with feelings and emotions," he told reporters.

"You have grown men in the world who have the internal resources of little boys, and then have to hide that and overcompensate with hyper-aggression."

Dan fatefully offers Ralphie a handgun to make him feel less vulnerable, which Eisenberg said was a typical response to feelings of insecurity in America, where mass shootings are incessantly carried out by isolated men.

"As an American reading a script about this kind of spiralling based on dangerous ideas about masculinity, it seemed like a very logical progression into gun violence," he said.

"But I suppose because this is an international audience" at the festival, he said, "it will play as something particularly American."

Brody, who won an Oscar for his role in Roman Polanski's Holocaust drama The Pianist, said that men were often sold, both online and in the real world, a distorting and destructive image of how they should be.

"Beyond grappling with masculinity or very blatant issues within society as a whole, (the film) is really about the disconnect with what we intrinsically know as the truth and what we are bombarded with, which becomes the truth," he said.

"All of our collective doubts and past traumas and unresolved issues create these fractured lives throughout the world --the repercussions are endless," he added.

Trengrove said he wanted to explore the "shame and impotence" of men struggling in the US economy.

"I'm generally just interested in the class struggle and how people are products of their socio-economic background," he said.

"It sometimes feels to me that American films can kind of resist talking about those things."

The Berlin film festival runs until February 26.


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