Director: Alison Kuhn (Germany). Year of Release: 2022
An empty stage. Five actresses (I’m not calling them actors here, as their gender is important), stand side by side. They look to the left, then to the right. They march forward, purposefully. Then they leave the stage.
This is the first time that most of the actresses have met, although they all attended casting meetings for the same film, as did the film’s director, Alison Kuhn. Slowly, tentatively, each explains the gruesome detail of that casting, which was carried out by an autocratic male director, who was enabled by his assistants, who were both male and female.
The women are interviewed separately and together, but even when they’re on their own, their experiences are worryingly similar. The director invited them to approach the camera. Behind them they sensed someone – sometimes male, sometimes female – who hit their breasts, groped them and then moved their hands in the direction of the woman’s vagina. Some of the women who underwent this abuse were 14- and 15-year old girls.
On other occasions, they were ordered to take off their shirts, then their bra, although there was no discussion of nudity beforehand. One recalls going against her better judgement to a second casting session where she was ordered to remove all her clothes. When she refused, she was accused of being prudish, but it was nothing to do with prudery. She had not been forewarned and hadn’t shaved. The director’s assistant told her this was no problem as “he likes hairy women”.
Clearly, this is all both physically and psychologically abusive, and yet because it takes place in a film shoot, unwilling nudity and abuse in the name of Art is excused as being somehow acceptable. In fact, the opposite is the case. It’s not just about expressing yourself. Young women, knowing that their chance of future work depends on doing what they’re told, acceded to workplace bullying. A worrying power dynamic is at play here.
On top of that, there is the specific psychological state of actors in the middle of a performance. Many must lose part of their self-consciousness to be able to throw themselves into a role. This may help improve their dramatic performance but it also makes them unusually suggestible to a director who suddenly orders them to do something that they would never usually consider.
Each of the women asked for the film of their audition to be destroyed, but they were powerless. And then the footage turned up in a documentary about the casting process that was due to be shown at an independent film festival in Bavaria. As one of them says, “I was just googling myself, as you do, and what I saw was shocking.” After an outcry, the film was dropped from the festival.
We hear speakers from a meeting organised after the festival. There is much talk of artistic freedom and one of the men defending the film even uses the word “#MeToo”. We do not see him, or any of the people in the meeting – instead we watch the shocked appearance of the women who were the subject of this discussion, but are only experiencing it for the first time now.
The Case You does its best to ensure that none of the women re-experiences any traumatic moments more than is strictly necessary for pointing out just how far – in the euphemistic language that the women often feel compelled to use – “barriers were crossed”. This has a potential disadvantage as a slightly more salacious film might be even more shocking. Nonetheless it is an absolutely correct decision made by a director who was genuinely concerned for the well being of her actors.
Beside which, the relative lack of details helps to show the systemic nature of the problem. The German film has the subtitle “ein Fall von vielen” – one case among many. The problem is not that one director, or his crew, went a little too far, but that this is going on all the time, and actresses are expected to internalise this as being something normal that they should accept without comment. One of the most incredible part of the stories is that none of the crew complained.
Everything is filmed inside the theatre, usually with the women on stage, sometimes (as when they are watching the aftermath of the film festival), in the audience. Sometimes they reenact scenes of what happened to them, sometimes they ask one of the others to play them. Props are minimal – not much more than a bucket, but that is all that we really need.
The Case You works as a witness for the prosecution in one particular case, but it does much more than that. It trusts the affected actresses to be brave and relay their experiences (it helps that they are not alone, and at the most difficult moments, one of them is always there to give another a sympathetic hug). And by using a format which, though minimalist, is very personal and moving, it confronts its audience with bitter truths.