I loved the first 20 minutes of this film. I loved its ironic and absurd humour, yet it turned quickly into a fudge with misogynistic undertones. The film puts gender relations at its core. Everything hinges on it: the characters, the story, the action, and the ‘morale’ of the story. Sadly, our writers (Álex de la Iglesias and Jorge Guerricaechevarría) are as much confused about gender as they are about good film-making. The film is weighted down by clumsy story-telling, little suspense, bad action, and thin characters. The film-makers mashed together a fairy tale, a horror, and a romantic comedy; all weaved together around gender. So, what is gender and what did they get wrong?
There are two important elements of gender that concern this film: social norms and power.
- Social norms are the conventions people follow in their social life and the expectations they have of how other people will behave and should behave. These are ‘internalised’ and vary, to an extent, from society to society. People internalise social norms through their individual background and experience, so we don’t all think or act in the same way. Social norms are not something out there in the sky, but in our heads and something we contribute in shaping. So, social norms shape our identity, but we also shape them.
- Power rests on social norms. It is not just the ability or act of oppressing another. Power is always a relationship. For an interesting view on power, see Randall Collins (‘Paradoxes of Power’ and Conflict). To comment on this film, I’m thinking of power as just the differential in opportunities between men and women that leads to men being over-represented in positions of authorities (CEOs, boards, government cabinets…), having more money and property, and having far fewer responsibilities (childcare, housework…). See Cynthia Epstein on the ‘great divide’, and R. Connell on ‘hegemonic masculinity’.
Masculinity in Crisis:
The film is based on the idea of men being intimidated by women’s success and self-confidence. They hate women because their masculinity is in crisis. It’s an idea of masculinity that consists in being the breadwinner and the sexual predator. It is also a masculinity that depends on women being weak, passive, and lacking in confidence. Unlike their women, the three male protagonists have no job or, at least, not a successful one. Although the film at the beginning tries to make fun of it, it ultimately asks the audience to sympathise with men feeling they don’t control the world anymore.
Following a hilarious jewellery robbery, two of the gang take a taxi and escape towards the Basque country. The two gang robbers, José (Hugo Silva) and Toni (Mario Casas), and the taxi driver (Pepón Nieto) bond around their misogynist paranoia. Being the ‘heroes’ of the film, we are supposed to like them and be on their side, but their grievances are however totally wrong. One cannot doubt that men still have power over women and that this is wrong. This should have been dealt differently.
The film should have made fun of the men and either confine them to defeat, or moved them to the realisation that there can be another masculinity. One where a ‘real man’ is the one who welcomes women as equals rather than running scared of them and hating them. Instead the ‘alternative’ that emerges is the homosexual relationship between the two police inspectors pursuing the robbers, who are just as inept as men and who replicate the traditional man-woman relationship, where the woman does everything, is neglected, and not respected. It’s funny, but it doesn’t work because it reiterates the unequal and oppressive marriage relationship without offering an alternative.
Witches and Misogyny
Women who do not comply with social norms and roles are generally portrayed as witches. Historically, women who did not adhere to social conventions were accused of witchcraft (see post). The gang ends up face to face with hundreds of women who are preparing a ritual to invoke the divine Goddess. The Goddess is represented with – what used to be known as – the ancient fertility Goddess, but was actually prehistoric porn. I’m sure the film-makers didn’t realise this, but it makes it rather unsavoury for those who do know! It is also a wasted opportunity. They could have used the Dark Goddess that channels women’s frustrations and thirst for revenge (see post on the Coven).
These witches, headed by Graciana (a great Carmen Maura), are the enemy; yet they simply refuse to play the neglected, betrayed, and used housewife or girlfriend looking after children and the house. Why should we hate them? Predictably, romance blossoms between José and Eva (Carolina Bang), daughter of Graciana, but only after Eva has renounced her ways and betrayed her family. In an almost funny and definitely uncomfortable scene, the two replay the trite scene of a woman complaining for being neglected while, in that particular situation, José just wanted to get out alive together with his male friends. It doesn’t work because, once again, the scene taps into a woman’s legitimate complaint that is made to appear irrational and extreme by the horror situation.
The film ends with the couples watching the child performing a magic trick with a horror touch. The men are in control and their masculinity is restored, although danger lurks behind them as the two witches laugh. The film-makers tried to make fun of male insecurities; yet they availed them and ended up with a misogynist film.