A Man’s Face: Our Review Of ‘M’ (2018)

Posted in OVID.tv by - April 24, 2023
A Man’s Face: Our Review Of ‘M’ (2018)

Menachem Lang remembers the face of one of the rabbis who sexually assaulted him when he was a young boy living in Bnai Brek, a Hasidic community in Israel. “He had a lot of freckles,” he says to one of the offscreen men. A man who feels disillusionment towards Hasidic Judaism, he lives in one of the secular cities. There, he hangs out in beaches and pick up transwomen whom he calls ‘transsexuals’. Yolande Zauberman’s M captures those scenes as well as his reluctant return to Bnai Brek. They have conversations in Yiddish, a language that both have different feeling about.

The Jewish Orthodox city of Bnai Brek gets a shakeup during Lang’s return, and a few things can happen when this prodigal son lets the community know about his presence. He expectedly tries to confront the men who abused him, but most of them refuse to appear on camera. The only direction that M can go on is for Lang to have discussions with fellow survivors and family members. The entire film takes place at nighttime, when conversations with these kind of subjects are more appropriate to take place.

Film exists as portraiture, to capture the human face. A version of M may just consist of Lang being brave enough to show his face. Meanwhile, other community members, mostly men, exist off camera as backs and shadows. But it feels like a miracle every time another man’s face shows up, a man who comes out as a sexual assault survivors. Sometimes, some med admit to being part of the cycle. Under the night sky, Zauberman captures a true safe space with Lang and these men understand survival’s nuances.

The people in M, or the men at least, exist in whatever form they seem to choose, some of them choosing to be full men with faces and voices. At other times, however, they do, expectedly, exist as shadows with only their voices to speak for them. Lang talks to one such man who talks about also being a survivor, having an attraction to men while having to marry a woman as tradition dictates. It’s important to reiterate this film’s decision not to judge people who see religion and some of its aspect as traps.

Zauberman’s camera also captures interesting juxtapositions. How can these men behave normally despite carrying burdensome secrets. Or knowing that an epidemic of sexual abuse lurks beneath the shadows? Everyone lives with this open secret. And yet, Zauberman also captures indoor public spaces with lots of light. There, Lang can sing as a cantor with other men who have not left the community yet. This feels like a silver lining where these men accept this truth teller as their own, where modernity can shed light on some of tradition’s shackles.

Watch M on OVID.

This post was written by
While Paolo Kagaoan is not taking long walks in shrubbed areas, he occasionally watches movies and write about them. His credentials are as follows: he has a double major in English and Art History. This means that, for example, he will gush at the art direction in the Amityville house and will want to live there, which is a terrible idea because that house has ghosts. Follow him @paolokagaoan on Instagram but not while you're working.
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