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Review: The Working Man


- Young Zurich-based director Hans Kaufmann presents his first feature, an uncompromising portrait of toxic masculinity

Review: The Working Man
Joel Basman in The Working Man

Hans Kaufmann’s first fiction feature, The Working Man [+see also:
film profile
– screened at Solothurn Film Festival – already sees him competing against the big boys for the festival’s most prestigious award (the Prix de Soleure). Despite being young in age, the Zurich-based director has already carved out his own niche with The Working Man, a film that is at times destabilising, harsh and cruel – a brutal account of its protagonist’s frustrations.

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Following the death of his parents, young health technician Patrick Signer, or Sigi, struggles to make sense of a life that no longer seems to belong to him. His earnings are hardly anything to brag about, girls ignore him and he doesn’t have any real friends. One day, a colleague suggests working on the black market to top up his pay, but his suggestion soon turns out to be a little riskier than expected. He sees a get-out when he meets Hannah, a good-looking young woman who takes him along to her Pentecostal-like religious community. Hannah is extremely attached to the church’s values and most specifically, the vein of sincerity that seems to runs up through the community. Unfortunately, Sigi feels unable to reveal his true nature to her, stifled by her demanding expectations, causing him to slowly lose a grip on his existence.

The Working Man guides us through the trials and tribulations of stereotypical masculinity, which consists of pornography, domination and physical strength. In Sigi's universe (the powerful Joel Basman) everyone must conform to a set of implicit rules, which see women as a mere commodity to be exchanged, brainless bimbos to be used and thrown about at will. On the building site where he works, Sigi is confronted by this kind of talk on a daily basis, a stage on which the cruel violence of masculinity is acted out. True opinions and feelings are of little importance here, what matters most is social image, masculine masks acting as the face of an existence dedicated entirely to appearance. But Sigi fails to respect the rules, unable to truly integrate into a world that seems to want to crush him. The only glimpses we get of his inner world are afforded to us by classical music (accompanied by some electronic sounds), which pops into the narration here and there.

Sigi is like a ticking time bomb waiting to explode. He bottles up his frustration and repressed rage, which he finds impossible to vent. The only male figure with whom he first appears to identify is a man who pays him cash-in-hand, but he also turns out to be a disappointment. Sigi truly believes that his daily life and work don’t deserve anyone's love. He feels unsuitable, unable to happily and sincerely commit to any sort of emotional relationship. The film’s close-up shots of Sigi’s seemingly impassive face seem to be searching for the real him, confined to his obsessions. Essentially, we don’t know anything about the real Sigi: what he likes, what he’s scared of, his ambitions. Hans Kaufmann is not looking to answer those questions. Why? Because his focus is to reveal a world consisting of shambolic manhood, male stereotypes and repressed violence.

The Working Man is a powerful and surprising film, a journey to heart of a character who is both a tortured soul, and dangerously normal.

The Working Man was produced by Hans Kaufmann.

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(Translated from Italian)

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