Man Is a Woman

France 1997

Reviewed by Jos Arroyo


Our synopses give away the plot in full, including surprise twists.

Paris, the present. Following a night of sex at a sauna, Simon attends the wedding of his cousin David. After his Jewish relatives ask him when he's going to get married, Simon expresses his desire for David but is rejected. As a rapproachement, David asks him to play some Klezmer music on the clarinet. Rosalie, a Yiddish soprano, is deeply moved by Simon's playing. The next day Simon rejects his uncle's lavish financial incentive to get married; as a result, his uncle, a banker, cuts off his overdraft.

Rosalie appears at the restaurant where Simon plays the piano. She invites him to hear her sing, but he thinks she's been sent over by his family as a prospective bride. Realising his mistake, he goes to her concert. He invites her back to his apartment only to find he's been evicted. They go to sleep at her place; there, he discovers that the devout Rosalie is saving herself for her wedding.

As his feelings for Rosalie deepen, Simon asks David to return his father's clarinet, which he originally gave David as a wedding present. David has already sold it; Rosalie buys the instrument back at auction.

Simon and Rosalie decide to get married and go to New York to meet her Jewish Orthodox family. At first, her father seems to loathe Simon, but after playing Klezmer music, he finally wins over the clan. They return to Paris to get married. David has marital problems and moves in with Simon and Rosalie. Rosalie realises that Simon desires David more than her. She tells him she's pregnant and, when he asks who the father is, she destroys his clarinet. Soon after, their marriage falls apart.


Part of the pleasure of watching Channel 4's aptly titled series Eurotrash was witnessing the unlikely chemistry between co-presenters Jean-Paul Gaultier and Antoine de Caunes. Gaultier, the fashion fruitcake, was an unexpectedly well-chosen straight man to the heterosexual (and family man) de Caunes' unexpectedly camp clowning. Together they were coolly excessive. One of the fun things about Man Is Woman, then, is that de Caunes finally gets to play a gay man. Unfortunately, the director Jean-Jacques Zilbermann has straightened all possible campness out of his performance. What we get is a competent sensitivity that does more credit to de Caunes than to the film.

Man Is Woman aspires to be a farce with complex things to say about love, desire and identity. In this, it puts you in mind of what Josiane Balasko achieved in her love-triangle comedy Gazon maudit. But Zilbermann has neither Balasko's crack sense of timing nor her delicacy. Scenes such as Rosalie's mother chopping up a chicken are so crude they border on the garish while some of the more tender scenes between Simon and Rosalie lack emotional resonance. The film also lacks attention to important details: the accents used in the US scenes are completely off (no Brooklyn Jew speaks like the ones in this film) and their dubbing is incompetent. But tempting as it might be to dismiss the film as an innocuous sitcom, it would be unjust to do so.

Zilbermann and Gilles Taurand's excellent screenplay does in fact say quite complex things about love, desire and identity. Simon has distanced himself from his Jewish cultural identity and, though we are told he desires and fucks other men, neither the character nor the film demonstrate any acknowledgement of gay cultural identity. Until he meets Rosalie, and even after, the only thing that sparks Simon is his desire for David. Rosalie is his complete opposite: a woman, heterosexual, American, Orthodox, a prude.

What they share is the community of music and their love for each other. Their love of music, particularly the hauntingly joyous Klezmer, is also a tie to ancient roots, Jewish culture and ancestry (Simon's father played the same music on the same clarinet at Jewish weddings). Once the clarinet is broken, Rosalie's transformation into a sensuous woman involves a distance from her orthodox beliefs (represented by among other things, her inclusion of show tunes into her repertoire) while Simon's transformation involves the realisation that love can give a man a hard-on irrespective of his object of desire's gender. Both transformations involve choosing a fragmented and alienated self, over the restricted and restrictive certainties of tradition, culture and community.

Man Is Woman clearly aspires to affect us in a way similar to Klezmer: a sharply sad uplift that intensifies complex emotions without resolving, untangling or simplifying them. Equally clearly, it fails. Yet aspects of character and story linger in the mind for much longer than those of much better films.


Jean-Jacques Zilbermann
Régine Conckier
Jean-Luc Ormières
Jean-Jacques Zilbermann
Gilles Taurand
Based on a story by Jean-Jacques Zilbermann
Joële van Effenterre
Director of Photography
Pierre Aïm
Monica Coleman
Art Directors
Valérie Grall
©Les Films Balenciaga/
M6 Films
Production Companies
Régine Konckier and Jean-Luc Ormières present a Les Films Balenciaga/M6 Films co-production with the participation of Canal+/
Centre National de la Cinématographie and the support of sofica SofyGram
Line Producers
New York Unit:
Robin O'Hara
Michael Johnson
Production Manager
Philippe Besnier
Production Office Manager
New York Unit:
April Blair
Unit Production Manager
Daniel Dubois
Unit Managers
Alan Corno
New York Unit:
Claire Barnier
Location Managers
Bruno Charton
New York Unit:
David Graham
Assistant Directors
Régis Musset
Nathalie Bezon
New York Unit:
René Veilleux
Michael Lerman
Script Supervisors
Agathe Grau
New York Unit:
Peggy Sutton
Françoise Menidrey
Camera Operator
Georges Diane
Steadicam Operators
Patrick de Ranter
Eric Le Roux
Jean Jack Bréhier
Art Director
New York Unit:
Stephen Beatrice
Set Decorators
Julie Sfez
New York Unit:
Kara Cressman
Costume Designer
Edith Vesperini
Maria Oufkir
New York Unit:
Kathryn Nixon
Make-up Supervisor
Sophie Landry
Supervising Hairstylist
Eric Gaillard
Clarinet Solo
Giora Feidman
Rosalie's Vocals
Rosalie Becker
Rosalie Becker Recording Supervisor
Eric Michon
Music Consultant
Eric Michon
"Longing", "Spiel Klezmer spiel", "The Happy Nigun", "Devekut", "A Prayer from Father Home", "Bublitchki" by Giora Feidman (clarinet), Dariusz Swinoga (accordion), Guido Jäger (contrebass), Michael Marx (guitar); "Varnishkes", "Der Rebe hot geheysn freyklekh zayn", "Yidl mitn Fidl", "You Are My Lucky Star", "Yankele" by Rosalie Becker (soprano), Nigel Foster (piano); "Hava Nagilah", "Der Rebe hot geheysn freyklekh zayn", "Bublitchki", "The Famly Danced" by Orient Express Moving Schnorers: Philippe Briegh (clarinet), Denis Cuniot (piano), Marc Slyper (trombone), Marc Benobou, Philippe Dallais (drums), Jean-Michel Clerc (tuba), Pierre Wekstein (saxophone/flute), Yann Martin (trumpet), Alain Dechoume (accordion), Robert Bonostre (guitar), Jean-François Cataire (contrebass); "Piano Bar" by Pascal Andreacchio; "Baroukh habo" by Yehuda Berdugo
Sound Engineer
Pierre Lorrain
William Flageollet
Studio Recording
Eric Ferret
Supervising Sound Editor
Christophe Winding
Sound Effects
François Le Peuple
Antoine Caunes
Simon Eskenazy
Elsa Zylberstein
Rosalie Baumann
Gad Elmaleh
Michel Aumont
Uncle Salomon Eskenazy
Maurice Benichou
Mordechai Baumann, Rosalie's father
Judith Magre
Mrs Eskenazy, Simon's mother
Catherine Hiegel
Mrs Baumann, Rosalie's mother
Stéphane Metzger
Daniel Baumann
Edwin Gerard
Yitshak Baumann
Noëlla Dussart
Jean-François Derec
Sacha Santon
Samuel Baumann
Gilles Atlan
Elisser Baumann
Irène Zilbermann
lady in red
Jesse Joe Walsh
Rabbi Fisher
Maryse Déol
Jacqueline Segard
red-headed woman
Patrick Burgel
Roland Oberlin
Andrée Damant
bank employee
Henri Dorothé
security man
Louis-Serge Segard
man in sauna
Lily Reka
Francine Zilbermann
Raymonde Aknin
Charles Aknin
Lilly Scherr
wedding guests
Millivres Multimedia
8,982 feet
99 minutes 48 seconds
Dolby Digital
In Colour
French theatrical title
L'homme est une femme comme les autres
Last Updated: 20 Dec 2011