At CineLatino, the Latin American film festival, I watched, You’re Killing Me Susana, starring Gael Garcia Bernal. As always, his performance is charming and the movie has lots of affable comedy. But his character and the story is not endearing. He is an unfaithful and selfish husband who does not take any interest in his wife and her writing. He is disparaging of her teaching, which supplements her writing aspirations. He has repeatedly talked his wife out of going away on writing trips because he is suspicious and jealous.
We learn he has previously followed her on a writing retreat and made it impossible for her to get work done. We see this behaviour play out in the movie. He has been cheating on her and is angry when she leaves suddenly without warning. He stalks her from Mexico until he tracks her down in the USA. She had been awarded a scholarship for a writing workshop. He shows up unannounced and causes a scene at every opportunity.
She repeatedly tries to leave him. He physically restrains her at one stage; he yells and swears at her; he sits in all her classes; he cheats on her again and follows her across the country once again when she leaves. He is a controlling and therefore abusive partner. But we are encouraged to empathise with him – he “loves” her.
Many movies have this plot – he’s supposed to be read as “romantic.” And although in his late 30s or early 40s, the film is about how she should forgive him. He just needs to “lose” her (wife are the property of husbands after all) and she will be change her mind written he grows up by the end of the film. Not romantic in the least. These are scary patterns familiar to women in abusive relationships. I’d seen the director in an interview say the film explores masculinity. It doesn’t. It merely reinforces a tired and dangerous film trope, that abuse is love. Very disappointing that it ends the way it does, without really getting to the heart of toxic men.
Photo: The Other Sociologist. [Photo of the banner for the film, with the two leads looking at one another; she is smiling; he is positioned close behind her with a faint, weary smile.