When women were men (a film)

Why Majorité Opprimée is a film work seeing

French filmmaker Éléonore Pourriat’s short movie about a society dominated by women, Majorité Opprimée (Oppressed Majority), was created four years ago but has gone viral in the week since she uploaded it to YouTube, attracting more than five million views. The attention is deserved. This is an extraordinarily powerful piece of art.

The plot’s premise is simple. It depicts a young father, Pierre, during a normal day in an unidentified French town. What becomes apparent as the film develops is that traditional gender roles have been completely upended. As Pierre collects the mail while pushing his young son in a stroller, a woman neighbour begins to discuss building issues with him, but then stops herself and says she should probably talk to his wife. Female joggers are topless and just a little too friendly. A vagrant shouts sexual insults.

When Pierre drops his son off to be looked after by Nissar, the man is wearing a hijab. It’s new. His wife wanted him to wear it, he admits. Pierre, after checking to be sure Nissar’s wife is out, tries to engage him in a discussion about the hijab.

“Don’t you feel more and more trapped?” he asks. “First you shaved off your whiskers and beard. But you’re a man. I mean we are men. You don’t belong to anyone. It’s important that I tell you that.”

Nissar, looking sheepish and uncomfortable, says it’s the law (meaning a religious edict), and that God is protecting him.

Pierre leaves Nissar, and the film gets violent and darker. A gang of teenage girls sexually assaults him. The police officer investigating the case, a woman, is skeptical and dismissive, more interested in the young man who brings her coffee. When Pierre’s wife, Marion, finally shows up (she had a meeting), she calls him “Pumpkin” and notes, with some disgust, that his cut and bruised face “looks like hell.” She brags about her day at work. Pierre says he is proud of her.

When Pierre breaks down, Marion scolds him. Look at the way you’re dressed, she says: short-sleeved shirt, flip-flops, knee-high shorts. She gets angry when he protests and leaves him to get the car. Listening to him complain, she says, is exhausting and she needs to calm down.

That a film about the oppression and discrimination that women face every day only gets noticed because the victim is a man underlines the point Pourriat is trying to make. If this were a film about a woman named Yvette, I wouldn’t be writing about it. But then such a film would be redundant anyway. We’d just have to look outside.

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