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In 2016, Josh Appignanesi and Devorah Baum released The New Man, an incredibly intimate and self-conscious documentary that charted Baum’s difficult pregnancy and sent up Appignanesi’s resulting emotional turmoil. Their new film, Husband, opens with footage from several Q&As that followed The New Man’s release, particularly focusing on Baum’s reflections on her husband’s crisis of masculinity. This unlikely sequel once again presents a moment in which Baum requires Appignanesi to step up and take responsibility and, once again, he implodes.
The narrative framework on which this matrimonial portrait is hung is a family trip to New York. There, Baum will be touring her new book, Feeling Jewish (A Book for Just About Anyone), and Appignanesi will care for their two young children and provide general support. However, before they have even left the house, he has lost his passport; and when he finally makes it to New York, he arrives with his camera, intent on making a new film.
Husband wears its metatextuality and self-reflexivity on its sleeve, revelling repeatedly in both the obvious and more subtle indicators of its arch creation. In one scene, Appignanesi attempts to cajole Baum into telling him about her day and when she argues that she already has, he explains he wants it re-enacted for the camera. “A conversation has to be real,” she asserts. But the film is clearly full of re-enactments, re-stagings and typical cinematic sleights of hand that create the illusion of reality. Baum may jostle against the film’s production, but she is also its co-creator.
That said, Husband is peppered with moments of insight from Baum, which make a compelling case for why people should read her book, and often lend a sense of direction amidst Appignanesi’s verbal barrage of neuroses. There’s an instance in which Baum turns to the camera and asserts that Appignanesi is attempting to make something through repetition, but that repetition will transpire to be his undoing. It’s an interesting observation here, where the couple are looking to capture lightning in a bottle for the second occasion using the same fundamental conceit – that Baum is producing something significant (their first child, now her first book) and that her husband is feeling insecure and insignificant as a result.
It would be nigh on impossible to make another film as disarmingly personal as The New Man, and on the surface, Husband certainly isn’t. But in many ways, the very fact of Appignanesi’s masculine crisis in this scenario provides some equally pointed critiques of the gender dynamics in a modern marriage.
► Husband is in UK cinemas now, and will be available to stream on Curzon Home Cinema from 10 February.