Monday Movie: A Slightly Pregnant Man, by Scott Nye
When The Criterion Collection released their tremendous box set devoted to the filmmaker last year, even his most devoted fans had to admit that their title, “The Essential Jacques Demy,” rather pointedly summed it up. In a fanbase as devoted as Demy’s, virtually every one of his films has its champions (except maybe Parking), but it’s fair to say that fanbase would not exist without those deemed “essential,” particularly his astounding first four films. His eighth film, 1973’s A Slightly Pregnant Man, is absolutely a minor work for all involved, but minor works can sometimes be the most thrilling.
Marcello Mastroianni stars as Marco Mazetti, an Italian driving instructor living in France with his long-time girlfriend, Irène (Catherine Deneuve), and their eight-year-old son Lucas (Benjamin Legrand, son of the film’s composer Michel Legrand, a frequent Demy collaborator). They have the sort of contented, modest life Demy admired in his films. Marco’s and Irène’s businesses (she’s a hairdresser) afford them a nanny to look after Lucas and prepare supper, yet restrict them to a tiny apartment and few outings. They seem in little rush to get married, yet are assured in their relationship. When Marco becomes ill, Irène is devastated at the mere thought of living without him; when they learn that he’s actually feeling the effects of a pregnancy, she is ecstatic.
Refreshingly, there’s little in the way of mockery or some elaborate need to convince everybody as their social circle, and the world at large, find out about Marco’s stunning development. This is the early 1970s, and gender roles are very much in flux; everybody seems to acknowledge male pregnancy as the next logical step. Demy has some fun putting it the context of women’s lib – the ladies at the hair salon all agree that abortions will be easier to procure, and a doctor ensures men that a contraceptive pill is being developed especially for them. As men everywhere react to the news with a mix of disbelief and terror, some woman or another casually reminds them that the fairer sex has been doing this sort of thing for quite awhile now and managed just fine. Throughout the film, women run successful businesses, draw crowds at concerts, prepare meals, and raise children – men are mostly around to fix machines and drink beer. They’ve become an accessory, and male pregnancy makes sense as a way for them to make themselves useful for a change. Because this is a small, somewhat tossed-off film, Demy can flood it with these casual moments and observations without diverting from its central drive. The premise becomes a way for Demy to explore family and gender dynamics, the economy, media, and any other number of asides, rather than using those topics to build some sort of “thesis.”
The epitome of a virile, desirable man throughout the 1960s, Mastroianni plays humility surprisingly well. When he reveals to his son that they’ll be going to a concert rather than the expected movies, he smiles softly and tosses out the information, knowing the response will be enthusiastic no matter how little he contributes. As he’s faced with his condition, he’s given more opportunities to play the sort of fearful side Fellini exploited so well in 8½ (and, later, City of Women), confessional to some but withholding from those to whom he should be closest – a nightmare scene of him giving birth to a telephone and a chicken is especially imaginative and well played. He and Deneuve, a couple in real life at the time, have an easy chemistry, and our knowledge of them as lovers and international stars makes their scenes together a delight. They twist the ease their real-life celebrity affords them into middle-class contentment without coming off as condescending. They seem delighted simply to be together, regardless of circumstances, and invite us to share in that.
The film, thus, becomes somewhat less compelling once Marco’s unique condition makes him a public figure, shilling for a new line of maternity clothing. Demy finds some comedy in the way the media both devours and rejects the couple (when she mentions her hair salon during a TV appearance, Irène is quickly told that no advertising is allowed, even though the whole thing is designed to promote so many things), but too much of the film gets away from the small family Demy and his collaborators had so lovingly crafted. Nevertheless, this is a charming family comedy with a nice progressive bite; inessential, perhaps, but all the better for it.