“It’s an odd kind of Christmas movie”: The director of ‘Manodrome, on giving a festive spin on toxic masculinity

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Source: Berlinale


South African director John Trengove’s Berlinale competition title doesn’t seem like an obvious choice to set during the festive period.

Manodrome sees Jesse Eisenberg playing a troubled taxi driver who finds himself becoming lured into a mysterious and cult-like ‘family’ of men.

“It’s a strange kind of Christmas movie, in a way,” said Trengove, while discussing the film with cast members including Eisenberg and Adrien Brody at the Berlinale.

“That was very much intentional. The screenplay was written over Christmas. It was about the perversity in bringing these dark themes into a supposedly festive, but very problematic ritual that is so saturated in consumerism and has lost a lot meaning.”

The feature is10 The Wound10’s English-language debut. It is produced by Riley Keough, Gina Gammell, Ryan Zacarias, and Ben Giladi through Felix Culpa. Capstone Global represents international sales, while CAA represents the US sale. The idea for the film came to Trengrove after learning about the so-called ‘manosphere’ – a collection of websites and online forums that promote masculinity and misogyny.

“[The film became this idea of a character who immerses himself in a world of men, and that blurs the lines between camaraderie and sexuality, and leads to all sorts of madness. A fever dream.”

But for Trengove, it was important to not let his film veer into becoming a comment on the alt right or internet culture, and to distance his film from any perceived similarities to the case of Andrew Tate, the British-American social media personality and proud misogynist, recently arrested in Romania on suspicion of human trafficking.

“I only found out about Andrew Tate very recently. Trengove said that the idea’s kernel predates Tate. “Early on, I was very clear that I didn’t want a film about internet, even though there were a lot ideas about it. We wanted to create something more imaginative and ‘other’. I deliberately avoided that topicality, knowing it was already in a triggering space. There’s no direct correlation with Andrew Tate – and thank God for that.”

Gun violence

Actor Brody was keen to highlight the film’s commentary on gun violence in the United States. He says, “We’re afflicted with a gun-violent epidemic.” It feels like a natural progression. There’s unchecked aggression in an individual that is being harnessed, stemming from myriad anxieties. Violence and violence seem logical. Guns are readily available, not exclusively in America, but we do have access to weapons, and they are used.”

Trengove wanted this aggression to infiltrate a domestic space in his film, and look at “how radical ideology reaches the mainstream. I think we see this in American politics, housewives in the Midwest are suddenly picking up assault rifles and reading up on neo-Nazi ideology.

“The idea that that kind of radical ideology, and extreme ideas about masculinity, could somehow find a softer, domestic space, I thought was interesting.”

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