▶︎ Enormous is streaming on Mubi.

One senses, behind the jarring mixture of comedy, semi-documentary and sentimentality, that Enormous is trying to address important issues such as the desire for a child (in a man).

Claire (Marina Foïs) is a successful concert pianist, who is waited on hand and foot by her adoring husband Frédéric (Jonathan Cohen) – he books her plane tickets, dishes out her medicine, does the shopping, and she’s the one forgetting his birthday. Yet, despite the couple being played by two actors with strong comic credentials, not only do the jokes fall flat but the reactionary premise of the film soon emerges under the pretence of a ‘feminist’ role-reversal.

At the beginning of the film, the middle-aged couple’s life, while unconventional, appears fulfilled by Claire’s artistic achievements, until Frédéric witnesses a birth and decides he wants a child. He wants it so badly that he secretly tinkers with Claire’s contraceptive pills until she becomes pregnant; it should be added that the idea comes from his mother, presented as both a loving Jewish mother and a hostile mother-in-law – the film clearly does not mind stereotypes.

Through some moderately amusing toilet jokes, Frédéric is aware of Claire’s pregnancy before she is and he deliberately does not tell her until she finds out, horrified, too late to terminate it. It seems extraordinary that in 2020 a film (directed by a woman) uses as comic device the violation of a woman’s control over her own body.

Jonathan Cohen and Marina Foïs as Frédéric and Claire Girard in Enormous

This first part of the film works as standard comedy of manners. But once Claire is pregnant, the tone shifts to a curious blend of the grotesque (Claire’s belly suddenly blows up to about 3 times the normal size, the rubber prosthesis protruding between her clothes) and the documentary: the sequences devoted to hospital visits, including the very long birth scene, use real medical personnel and edit in shots of real women giving birth.

There are one or two moments when the film appears to take stock of its own misogyny: a lawyer says that tampering with a woman’s contraception is illegal; a doctor, exasperated at Frédéric answering for Claire (‘he’ does not want an epidural), tells him to shut up. Yet, these tiny moments are swept away by the power of the documentary shots and the sentimentality of the ending.

Immediately after the birth Claire gives a prestigious concert, while Frédéric looks after the baby. Claire’s playing appears to transfix the other musicians (is she a better player now that she is a mother?), while the baby seems to ‘hear’ the music, as Frédéric watches the concert on television. This could be the couple going back to normal.

Yet, as the end credits roll over a long close-up of the new-born’s cute face, the message seems to be, rather, that Frédéric’s blissful rapport with the baby entirely justifies his manipulative and fraudulent behaviour.

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