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A Good Man (2020) starring Noémie Merlant

March 11, 2023.

This review contains spoilers.


The basic plot of A Good Man is that Benjamin, a trans man played by actress Noémie Merlant, decides to carry a pregnancy because his partner Aude, played by Soko, cannot.


Benjamin and his partner standing together

I did not like this film for many reasons beyond the fact that an actress was cast to play the trans male lead. It starts out alright and goes very quickly downhill. Benjamin is humiliated by numerous people who are simply forgiven for mistreating him, without ever needing to apologise for their actions.


Benjamin's friend asking him whether he is a woman disguised as a man

Benjamin's so-called "buddy" reacting very poorly after his friend comes out.


Benjamin, at one stage, gives a self-flagellating speech about how he deceived his friend by living as a man and not coming out as trans earlier. It is an an absolutely awful scene. To put it plainly; a man living as a man is not deceiving anybody. No self-respecting trans man, who has been low-disclosure (or 'stealth') for years, as Benjamin has, would demean himself in the manner that Benjamin does. As a low-disclosure trans man myself, I found this scene utterly insulting. Benjamin's friend calls him a "woman disguised as a man" and a "goddamn liar". Benjamin says, "you're right" and agrees that he is a liar just for living as a man and not disclosing his private history. At this point, I wished to send the filmmakers a very sincere and heartfelt "fuck you!"


Benjamin's mother standing at a window, misgendering her son as she talks about his past

Benjamin's mother engaging in a moment of self-pity while her son is receiving emergency care.


In another scene, as the injured Benjamin lies unconscious in a hospital bed after fleeing a bashing, his transphobic mother is afforded a long, uninterrupted monologue as she stands wistfully at a window. She misgenders her son and laments the fact that he has always been difficult, not like the oh-so-perfect daughter she wished to have. Benjamin's partner, who is in the room, doesn't bother to stick up for him or correct the mother's language.


Benjamin laying in a hospital bed, looking distressed as he is misgendered by nursing staff

After being called "sir-ma'am" by a nurse, Benjamin bursts into tears.


At the end, Benjamin is left to give birth on his own. Aude fucks off, apparently happy for him to be mistreated by nursing staff with nobody to advocate on his behalf. Then, all of a sudden, his transphobic friend is magically happy to support him and provide him medical care, and he is suddenly completely comfortable with his mother watching him give birth, when she magically deigns to be a part of his life again. Never, at any stage in this film, is accountability needed. I'm not saying that all trans blokes will hate A Good Man, but I didn't like it. I hated the way that a happy ending was slapped atop a mountain of trauma, misgendering, and humiliation which the cis characters never had to apologise for.


The argument could be made that Romeos (2011), one of my favourite films, is flawed in a similar way. But, while the trans male protagonist of Romeos (named Lukas) is certainly afforded a sudden happy ending after weathering all kinds of transphobic abuse, the key difference for me is his strength and pride. He stands up against harassment, he literally fights off abuse, and he doesn't take misgendering lying down. Benjamin, by comparison, agrees that he's a liar just for being a trans man, and then gives a tearful, pitiful speech to beg for his friend's compassion. Lukas doesn't beg anybody for anything. He certainly never agrees that he's a fraud or a liar, just because he didn't expose a part of his life/body which is nobody else's business.


When Lukas does choose to forgive Fabio, a gay man who is attracted to Lukas but becomes intensely hostile after learning Lukas’ assigned sex, it’s because he’s learned the truth; Fabio is a self-hating, insecure, scared man who pretends to be straight and even lies to his own family, using horrible slurs (ableist, homophobic, etc) to cover his own vulnerability. It’s clear that, by the end of the film, Lukas no longer feels threatened or cowed by Fabio, once armed with knowledge of where Fabio’s weak-willed nastiness truly comes from. He’s seen Fabio at his most vulnerable, and even met Fabio’s oblivious mother, giving him power. That is why the pair finally become intimate. When Romeos ends, Lukas is in control. He’s been hurt and disrespected, but he’s in charge of everything that happens. Characters such as the man who tried to rape him, and the official who treated him like a freak, are not forgiven. For all of these reasons and more, watching Romeos makes me feel that I'm being seen in all my strength, even though Lukas is put through some heinous stuff. After all, I've been put through heinous things as well. It's not a perfect movie, but I love it.


Watching A Good Man just makes me angry.


Aude saying "lesbian sounds nasty"

Aude engaging in some needless lesbophobia.


Trans and gender-diverse people aren't the only ones insulted in A Good Man. Upon meeting Aude for the first time, Benjamin (pre-transition) tells her that he isn't a lesbian, referencing the fact that he's a closeted trans man attracted to women; an entirely reasonable distinction to make. Aude, in response, laughs and says "lesbian sounds nasty", going on to insist that she isn't a lesbian either. I didn't like, or even understand, this scene. Why are we putting down lesbians, again? Why is that necessary, just to reinforce that Aude is attracted to men as well as women? There was no need for casual lesbophobia in this film. Being a lesbian isn't nasty.


Fuck you, Aude.


The words "in memory of Jacob Hunt" displayed on a black screen

"In memory of Jacob Hunt." The post-film note at the end of A Good Man.


Jacob Hunt, a trans man, sitting on a hospital bed

Jacob Hunt, the real-life inspiration for Benjamin, in the biographical film Coby.


What's weirdest about this film is that Christian Sonderegger apparently co-wrote it, and the plot is linked to his real-life brother's transition. In fact, Sonderegger directed Coby (2017), documenting his trans brother's journey, during which Jacob considered becoming pregnant.


In A Good Man, Benjamin's brother is established as something of an antagonist, reacting with aggression when Benjamin announces that he will be carrying a child. In this way, Christian Sonderegger has almost cast himself as the villain, as though this is how he might've reacted if Jacob had ultimately chosen to become pregnant. It's very disquieting.


Surely, if the film were being made in the memory of Jacob, Sonderegger would've wanted to show his brother's memory some love and compassion. Surely Benjamin's brother could've been loving and supportive at a time when Benjamin's own mother had disowned him. Further, surely Sonderegger could've spared a thought for the trans men who would watch A Good Man, and how much they might adore a fictional depiction of such a brotherly bond. Instead, Benjamin's brother yells at him, furious that his family member is inconveniencing the world by daring to be a pregnant man, making the post-film note all the more upsetting. How would Jacob have felt about brotherly abandonment in A Good Man, I wonder?


As a viewer of both A Good Man and Coby, all I can do is theorise about the filmmaking decisions that led to the dramatic martyrdom of Benjamin, and the wholly unpleasant viewing experience of watching him be abandoned and verbally attacked by his brother. Who knows, maybe Marie-Castille Mention-Schaar, producer of A Good Man, is to blame for the worst parts of the movie, and Sonderegger had no input beyond the screenplay they authored together. Regardless, I wouldn't recommend watching it.

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