Le souffle du désert
CH 2005 80'
Director: François Kohler
Script: François Kohler
Camera: Denis Jutzeler, Camille Cottagnoud
Sound: Eric Ghersinu
Editing:: Hélène Girard
Music:: Anthony Rozankovic
Production:: XL Production, Heinz Dill, Xavier Grin
Thirteen men, total strangers from different countries and walks of life, have gathered at the edge of the Sahara for a physical and emotional adventure: a 15-day trek, a chance to rethink their lives and their male identity. Inspired by the desert, they share their anxieties, some of them taboo, all of them of universal interest, in moments of intimacy so intense they can be unsettling.
The resulting film makes a clean sweep of clichés about what it means to be a man. Desert Wind exposes the participants' innermost thoughts about their families, their roles as fathers, their relations with women, starting with their mothers, their sexuality. They reveal what they really think about power, aggressiveness, fear, performance.
The film is also for women, as it gives them a glimpse of the hidden side that few men spontaneously reveal.
"Says one: "Each of us is here to encounter himself in the solitude of unlimited space and the company of other men". They sit around a fire and announce things they like ("dipping choccolate in my coffee in a cafe") and dislike ("men who shave only on workdays and not on the weekend for their families and wives"). One pens a critical letter to Mom:"You made me see male sexuality as brutal, savage, forced and wicked." Others stand naked and talk about their sex lives. Most seem better off as a result of their group therapy.
Written and directed by François Kohler, DESERT WIND will be of interest of man - and especially to women, who might learn much they didn't know about opposite sex."
V.A. Musetto, New York Post
"The climax of the film involves all of the men making promises, shouting them out into the vast space of the desert. It's a cathartic moment, and the hope is that after this metaphysical trek everyone will have learned a little something more about the nuances of existence. Certainly European audiences who've already seen the film are responding enthusiastically."
BBC World Film Focus
"Mr. Kohler's conception of the desert trek as a way to break down rigid psychic barriers between men was undercut by the fact that those who chose (and, presumably, paid) to go on this trip are a self-selected group. They seem open to a level of vulnerability and introspection that might make many guys squirm. On the first night of introductions around the campfire, one man says, "I like dancing, singing and sharing," while another confesses his love for dipping chocolate in his coffee. As the rigors of the trek become more grueling, the revelations grow more intimate. In the funniest scene, the men take turns stripping naked and talking about their bodies. "I like my body upside down, too," one says, standing on his head. Though it generates its share of unintentional giggles, DESERT WIND does manage to take us to a seldom-visited place: the hidden corners of the straight male mind."
Dana Stevens, New York Times
"Far from encouraging "Survivor"-style competitiveness, the desert setting serves as a serene Club Med-type backdrop to the all-male bonding. The men, however, are careful to qualify their feelings as emphatically heterosexual. Yet the prescribed focus of the exercises and the "how are you feeling now?" quality of facilitator Alexis Burger's interventions narrowly circumscribe whatever "breakthroughs" the men may experience. The tribe's unfailing politeness outside of activities specifically designed to arouse testosterone underlines the suspiciously benign nature of the entire endeavor."
Ronnie Scheib, Variety
"Nicely rendered moments of casual intimacy between the men (we see one rinsing shampoo from another's scalp) attest to the trip's therapeutic value, but very little of it transfers to the audience. The dull large-group scenes consist mostly of old standbys like writing problems on slips of paper and burning them (followed here by Burger's dubious exhortation to "thank the fire"). The major exception arrives near the end, when the men take turns standing nude in front of the group and talking frankly about their bodies."
Joshua Land, Village Voice
"This is the story of a quest. The story of thirteen men with different pursuits, and at different stages of their lives. On the occasion of a two week trek, they are going off to join up with the long tradition of anchorites, hermits and penitent monks who, ever since humanity existed, choose vast deserted areas to give themselves over to introspection.
But, sign of the times, isolation is no longer the done thing and the preoccupations that have become the lot of men of the 21st century have somewhat changed. At a time when the relations between the sexes have been suddenly turned upside down, it is often difficult to recover one’s masculine identity. The men filmed by François Kohler are linked by the urgent need to explore this facet of their personality which, paradoxically, they know very little about, having for a long time denied, under-exploited or, on the contrary, overestimated it. While studying the group as a whole, LE SOUFFFLE DU DESERT: DES HOMMES EN QUÊTE DE SENS invites several men in particular to express their thoughts: traumatized by a domineering grandmother, one of them has difficulty connecting with women. Another suffers from complexes which paralyse him in his relations with others. And so on. Little by little, fatigue, the heat, the lack of hygiene, combined with the effects of this group therapy, make these characters undergo an extraordinary process of psychological striptease. Affinities begin to form, new perspectives start to take shape. What emerges is a disturbing reflection on the changing role of modern man."
Visions du Réel Nyon 2005
Three questions to the group leader
What is masculinity?
« Masculinity is not easy to define. Is there a natural' masculinity that we can uncover beneath social conditioning? Or does it depend on the historical and cultural context, so that it is reinvented through each new period in human evolution? What if masculinity is really a combination of the two a bit of both? We can always explore the changing nature of masculinity. It is written into the changing historical and cultural roles tied to the fact of being either male or female. »
How do we approach these changes?
« For our purposes, we must first look carefully at the questions and practical experience coming out of a variety of therapeutic and personal development approaches. This exploration offers an overview of the ways men have been socially conditioned (competition, aggression, conquering sexuality, fear of homosexuality), and then moves on to experiences of greater sensitivity ones in which our relationships with other men and with our own essential selves as men mutually support each other as they unfold. »
Why did you participate in this film?''
« Even though I know nothing about film, I really liked the idea that this kind of work could be filmed and shown. I believe it is very much worth the trouble to show an authentic undertaking that is both creative and deep, and that touches on masculinity while avoiding the standard approaches. »