Relationships are messy. Yes, we need them in order to live a fulfilled and healthy life, however, the joyful moments they bring us always come with strings attached to copious amounts of pain and misery. Mens vi venter (While we wait), directed by Kamilla Alnes, is centred around a very special kind of relationship – one that half of the world’s population is intimately familiar with, yet one that is rarely talked about. The review below contains spoilers so don’t read it unless you’ve watched the short yet. If you have, just go with the flow…
I love a good plot twist that I don’t see coming, and the one in Mens vi venter is as unexpected as a premature period when you’re wearing your last pair of unstained underpants. It’s a finely finessed film that dances around the edge of absurdity, as narratives that try to pull off a double-meaning often do, but the writing and the performances do the heavy lifting and succeed in convincing the audience that something which should be silly – ie personifying a menstrual cycle – is actually not that outrageous.
Alnes used the complex relationship with her own period as an inspiration for the film, which delves into the still largely taboo subject with a lighthearted approach, in the hope that it will normalise it. Mens vi venter doesn’t shy away from addressing the reality of menstruation – clots and all – yet it’s a film that engrosses the audience rather than grossing us out, and for that it’s an absolute triumph.
The story follows the rocky relationship between two young people, and is written as the woman’s internal reflection on the highs and lows of it. The narrative unfolds through a series of familiar vignettes that anyone who’s ever been in a relationship themselves (or who owns a TV) will recognise – from cuddling and laughing on the sofa, to having heated arguments in the street, and everything in between. Soon enough, however, the story takes a rather violent turn, leading up to a plot twist as cleverly concealed as a small tampon.
“We’re badasses. There should be ‘first period parties’, celebrations and high fives”
Alnes shared with S/W that when she got her first period at the age of 14, she felt ashamed and embarrassed, and wanted to hide from, rather than celebrate the fact that she was becoming a woman. “Menstruation is something we don’t talk about enough” – the director explained – “We’re badasses. There should be ‘first period parties’, celebrations and high fives to all women who are going through life with that monthly pain and all that comes with it. And we can make fun of it. But at the same time I hope that women who live in a man’s world, can walk into that meeting room, that schoolyard, that gym, that store and think to themselves: Anything you can do, I can do bleeding.”
I had a very similar experience when I got my period. I was both embarrassed and terrified, and when my older sister casually handed me one of our mum’s ginormous sanitary pads, I thought my life was over. The only thing worse than the prospect of wearing this monstrous adult nappy for the next 40 years, was talking about it. And, as Alnes said, menstruation is still not talked about nearly as much as it should be. Finding the right way to get the conversation flowing is key and using a relatable metaphor and a darkly comedic touch, like the director has done in Mens vi venter is ingenious.
The scenes that precede the reveal are where the flavour and pulling power of the film lie. It’s possible that some of the puns have got lost in translation, but there are enough moments injected in both the visuals and the script, that will undoubtedly connect with the viewers – like those depicting the comfort, the frustrations and the boredom that are part of being in a long-term relationship – and those that will intrigue them – such as the mention of an unpleasant, lingering smell.
By tricking us into believing that we’re watching a romantic relationship unfold, Alnes has ensured that she’s kept her grip on her story and her audience. But by switching the focus to a woman’s relationship with her menstrual cycle, she has created a diving board for the story’s departure into the realms of the taboo. Through gentle laughs and knowing nods, the director eases us into the film’s message that periods too, when stripped from shame and stigma, are not that scary after all. And that is bloody brilliant.