There may be a home movie quality about Josh Appignanesi’s (The Infidel, Song of Songs) film, The New Man, but the issues he examines are profound. Written and directed with his wife, Devorah Baum — an academic — Appignanesi’s premise was to turn the camera on himself to explore his feelings about his impending first-time fatherhood in his late thirties. After a series of failed fertility treatments, the pregnancy is obviously joy-fuelled mixed with inevitable apprehension, particularly on the part of Appignanesi.
His angst at trying to work out his changing status provides some of the laugh out-loud moments. “I’m pregnant, we’re all pregnant,” he tells Devorah. He worries that the baby will usurp him — terrified that being a father will change everything about his life. Appignanesi is often unshaven, constantly needy and seems to spend too much time moping about in the house.
The then-out-of work film-maker captures conversations with friends, acquaintances and family. The camera accompanies him everywhere — on the bus, dinner parties and walks with his wife. He visits his parents, who separated when he was a young boy, and their discussions about Appignanesi’s own fathering are affecting and funny.
The film is intimate, honest and introspective. It reveals the everyday stresses and strains on the couple — her work overload, his lack of it. But the project takes a dramatic shift as complications surround the pregnancy and excitement is replaced by acute, palpable anxiety.
Baum now takes more of a central role and despite the unbearable circumstances, does so with poise and strength. At times, it feels almost too voyeuristic to watch.
Having chosen to share this particular period of their lives, Appignanesi and Baum have created a valuable personal memoir, but not just for themselves. Their bravery and candidness is to be applauded.