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Review: The Protected Men


- Irene von Alberti’s latest effort is funny and surreal, but its lack of technical polish leads us to believe the story’s potential hasn’t been fully exploited

Review: The Protected Men
Britta Emmelstein (left) and Mavie Hörbiger in The Protected Men

One day, men – especially the most “alpha” and powerful ones – are mysteriously struck down by a virus that suddenly makes them hairy and sexually aroused, killing them in a matter of seconds while their instincts go haywire. After news of the Chancellor’s death owing to this new disease is broadcast worldwide, the local feminist party pounces on the crisis and takes advantage of it to rise to power, establishing a new societal order led by women. All of this happens in Germany, in either the present day or the near future. This bold, intriguing premise is at the core of Irene von Alberti’s new feature, The Protected Men, which has world-premiered in the New German Cinema strand of this year’s Munich Film Festival.

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The plot, based on Robert Merle’s 1974 novel The Virility Factor and penned by von Alberti herself, zooms in on the new, self-proclaimed Chancellor, Sarah Bedford (Mavie Hörbiger), along with her right hand Anita Martinelli (Britta Hammelstein) and her partner Ralph Martinelli (Yousef Sweid), a scientist who may be able to develop a vaccine in record time.

In fairness, most of the characters – if not all of them – are quite sketchy. Some of them are clear caricatures, including the late Chancellor Kanzler Darius Becker (Godehard Giese) and the corrupt head of a pharmaceutical giant Hilda Helsinki Pfeiffer (Bibiana Beglau).

However, the picture is enriched by several great puns and satirical moments interspersed throughout – for example, during the health crisis, groups of women try to sexually arouse men in order to kill them. During one such assault, Anita stops the women and tells the man that he’s been too imprudent going around alone, prompting a curious case of reverse victim blaming.

Technically speaking, however, the picture appears – more or less deliberately – patchy, and probably overly so. This is particularly visible when it comes to scenes depicting news anchors, wherein shoddy logos and green screens are very poorly implemented. Visually, the cinematography (lensing by Constantin Campean) is characterised by the presence of bright environments and is rich in fluorescent colours (predominantly pink, green and yellow), conferring a more light-hearted tone and enhancing the surreal setting.

The closure of the narrative arc – including the final scene set quite some time after the crisis – also feels a tad rushed. These flaws make it an imperfect tale, yet it’s worth watching owing to its uniqueness and bold premise. While only scratching the surface and without taking things too seriously, von Alberti still delivers an entertaining satirical comedy. The potential contained in this huge role reversal taking centre stage in the narrative isn’t fully exploited, however. That being said, von Alberti’s satire is biting enough and manages to develop the story’s main conflicts rather fairly and evenly by taking a closer look at those who are worried about the consequences of the epidemic and those who want to get the upper hand by taking advantage of this “brave new world”.

The Protected Men was produced by German outfit Filmgalerie451, which is also in charge of its domestic distribution. Munich-based sales agent The Playmaker sells the picture internationally.

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