Review: Garçonnières (Man Caves)

Directed by Céline Pernet, following a lengthy period on dating websites and meeting a variety of men, Pernet decides to embark on a deeper investigation into what men feel and think. Through an advert, she whittles her subjects down to 30 men, whose ages span 15 years, and who are willing to talk frankly and openly about all aspects of their lives.

The first thing to get out the way quickly when discussing Garçonnières is the inherent conflict that it’s both interesting to hear what these men have to say, but also gives a platform to some misogynistic attitudes. It’s unavoidable, but it does bring in the question of whether that affects how you enjoy and take in this documentary. Although, in itself the fact that it raises questions about how we use media, and informational versus soapbox, is a worthwhile discussion. Regardless, it’s hardly surprising that given the generations that these men have grown up in, they’ve been influenced by classically patriarchal attitudes. Some of them are stronger examples than others, and in turn some have more redeemable qualities to balance it out than others.

As a whole, it is disheartening to see the lasting effects of those old-fashioned attitudes, relating masculinity to protecting women, or that paying for things means you’re more likely to get sex. It has peaks and plateaus, the subjects tend to raise an interesting point about masculinity in a modern era, then knock that down with a sexist attitude. One of the interesting questions, is whether there are truly role models for modern masculinity, having thrown out all those misogynist and toxic, where does that leave them? Is there a genuine, positive example of what being a man should mean in a society of equality and respect?.

Another element, which is unintentional on their part, is their use of language, occasionally falling into red flag territory; one particular example being the suggestion that men being rejected sexually is ‘dangerous’. Judging by the different opinions towards dating and sex given by these men, it’s clear that the attitude of rejection being different based on gender is way too prevalent. Even more so the idea that any woman can just get sex whenever they want, not considering how intrinsically careful women have to be in their decisions, especially with men they don’t know. That said, there is sparks of progression, particularly in the younger of those interviewed, including open and equal attitudes towards body image, childcare and abortion. As well as an awareness of how toxic attitudes can be reinforced by other men.

Those ups and downs of modern versus old-fashioned values is balanced well with the narration from director Céline Pernet. Not only that but the tone of her questions easily lends the intention to further their answers and consider what their answers mean to her as a woman. It also sets a new dynamic when she opens up about her sexual experience in their conversations, you can see the classic subtle squirm from several of them who clearly aren’t used to women talking openly about sex. Her style smartly highlights their body language and facial cues, at times getting almost uncomfortably close with her framing. Pernet also brings through a number of visuals emphasising typically male settings, they work very well to lend additional context and atmosphere. Additionally, one of the keys to why this film works is that it’s an intensely personal project, and Pernet makes herself vulnerable, but it never for a second feels self-indulgent. There’s even almost a poetic feel to the way she contextualises their stories.

Garçonnières demonstrates that while many men retain old-fashioned attitudes towards masculinity and women, there is still progress that will hopefully be strengthened by the generations to follow. It can be difficult to hear some of the opinions that come out along the way but it undoubtedly has a point to make about modern masculinity and equality. Céline Pernet brings a personal but objective feel, she gives these men the space to explore their viewpoint, while peppering the journey with her own experience. It continuously ranges from eye-opening, aggravating, interesting and disheartening, it can leave you feeling conflicted and in today’s landscape of film, that’s a useful and unusual experience.

Verdict: ✯✯✯✯ | 8/10

Reviewed as part of Sheffield DocFest 2022

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