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Film Review: The Men's Room (Norway) 2018

Clare Martin

As the blurb for The Men's Room says, “Every Tuesday 25 tattooed, middle-aged men take a break from their everyday lives to drink beer, tell bad jokes and sing dirty rock songs. “. Maybe that’s most Friday nights at pubs around New Zealand. The difference is most kiwi blokes wouldn’t combine that with choral singing.

The film outlines its goal from the outset, the bizarre gig the choir has landed, to be support for Black Sabbath. It’s a straight forward format, the (Norwegian) clock ticking down as the weeks dial down to the big occasion.

What this film doesn’t offer in artifice or innovation, it makes up with in sheer honesty.

We walk into the rehearsal room and join the choir. The camera sits with many personalities so comfortably we are one of the family. Without needing to add in quirky camera angles or extreme close-ups, there is clarity and storytelling in every frame.

Importantly, the singing and the music tells as much of the story as the dialogue. And what an uproarious repertoire of songs - “I’m your average white suburbanite slob … CHORUS “He’s an asshooooole”. And there is a hearty helping of singing and harmonies sung with gusto.

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Nobody is asking these blokes to sing classical but they sing that too. And it connects straight to their heart, you can see it in their faces. As their conductor observes, “part of my job is to see people and then have fun with them at their own expense”. And when they leave rehearsal, they return home happier men. If nothing else this is a darned good advert for joining a good choir.

But this isn’t just choral glorification. The group means everything to its members and they even joke that “by law, we have to sing at each other’s funerals”. What they don’t anticipate is that one of the crowd is terminally ill. Without one whiff of sentimentality, this brings us closer and closer to this loss. The humour and banter between the guys is a joyous foil to the pain of losing their friend. This is captured with a light deftness and no sense of intrusion.

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The ending will not be disclosed here needless to say. There is a completeness to the film but the filmmakers don’t spend quite enough time in the rounding off. The connections for the audience are left hanging. We wonder what became of all those personalities when the credits start to roll. Perhaps there needs to be a follow-up.

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You must see this film for its ability to candidly frame human’s need for connectedness. Over a ten year period, most of the original members of the choir still turn up every Tuesday. And as one of the guys observes, “with all the different personalities in the choir it means you end up loving all of humanity”. What a brilliant exercise in belonging captured over 75 minutes of the film.

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Enjoy this film at the Doc Edge Documentary Film Festival, Auckland from 30 May to 9 June 2019 or Wellington, from 13 June to 23 June.

Buy tickets here

Written By: Clare Martin Clare has performed as an opera, recital and oratorio artist in UK most notably the Queen Elizabeth Hall, South Bank, London. In NZ she has performed with NZ Opera and with the NZ Symphony Orchestra but more recently she has moved into a wider range of contemporary genres including jazz and even Leonard Cohen. Since 2008 Clare has been teaching from her own music studio working with professional and beginner singers. In 2017 she was a mentor on TVNZ’s The Naked Choir working with a cappella choirs and she currently coaches barbershop and a woman’s ensemble.

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