Chicks with their father's mustaches

Berlinale Talent Press, February 11, 2012 - by Makbul Mubarak

With her documentary MAN FOR A DAY, Katarina Peters playfully puts to practice the theoretical complexity of gender-studies issues.

“A nurture it is, not a nature”, says Diane Tor, the main character of the documentary MAN FOR A DAY (KATARINA PETERS, Germany), screening at Perspektive Deutsches Kino, about several women trying to experiment with their sex and gender roles by physically living as men. Diane Tor is their mentor.

The film starts as a Judith-Butler-for-Dummies, a way of showing how powerless women are and of examining how dominating men are. Tor guides the audience toward several possible conclusions: should women disarrange males’ eternal stalwartness? Or should they learn to tolerate their own inferiority?

The film is divided into several chapters, beginning with Tor showing how to dress like a man, followed by her explaining some thoughts through interviews. These interviews are important, showing how serious the film is, proceeding from some premises on sexual performativity, and not just stupid deeds done by some desperate girls. These premises crawl to the next level where these women perform some mimetic acts: they copy how men paw their legs on the ground with a full sense of “ownership”, show how smoke vaporises from the cigarettes of a gentleman, demonstrate how to mess around with cars, and so on. The sight of those women spying on men in the street, zigzagged with images of them emulating those men, makes for some effective erratic humour.

The next stages come as we expect: the women successfully sneak into men’s toilets and convince their parents how boyish they are. Judith Butler’s concept of sexual performativity, which is mirrored on the sexual identity as a nurtured instead of natured thing, joins the idea of women who are usually watched by men, now becoming spectators of men. They also let themselves be affected by men’s behaviours and finally turn into one.

The film takes a theoretical premise that is usually explained incessantly in hundreds of pages in philosophy books and explains them in a playful way. You can laugh yet still grasp the whole concept. Instead of building a serious documentary like those of Sophie Fiennes, Katarina Peters chooses to spread the whole idea through the kinds of jokes you could find in a book like Cathcart and Klein’s “Plato and Platypus Walk into the Bar”. Peters chooses to concentrate on a specific case and induct it in a bigger scope that she never spells out; you just suddenly realise that it is a pity to stop thinking when the movie itself ends. Katarina Peters embroiders a convincing joke on the gender gap in society. Perhaps her next feature will be Fanon-for-Dummies.