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PETER CATTANEO KNOWS very well what he's left out of his movie. The director of The Full Monty--a comedy about six unemployed steelworkers in Sheffield, England, who decide to take a stab at the stripping business--pulls a blatant sleight of camera in the film's final seconds. Just as these fledgling Chippendales are about to doff their well-placed hats and give their fans "the Full Monty," Cattaneo cuts to a shot from backstage, revealing nothing more than a row of adorable male heinies.

"I'd want my money back if I'd paid to get in," I tell Cattaneo, who has stopped in Minneapolis to chat up his film. "And you know why?" Cattaneo, wearing the high-end version of a flannel shirt, and looking just like one of the lovable schlubs in the movie, agrees without apology: "No Full Monty."

Not even a half-Monty, as a matter of fact. Typically, Cattaneo tries to deflect the seriousness of his omission with some humor: "Six nervous, naked, middle-aged men standing in a row with a wide-angle lens?" he asks hypothetically. "No thank you." The director's comment nearly sums up his film: charming, rueful, and even heartwarming, although, in the end, it leaves something to be desired.

Cattaneo asserts that his film is simply a poignant comedy that uses the age-old conceit of "the fish out of water threatened with imminent humiliation." But why? Why is revealing the male genitalia synonymous with humiliation in the het mainstream? Why has there been such a preponderance of female frontal nudity that one scarcely notices it anymore, while a whole plot can be constructed around whether a group of men will reveal a few select inches of proscribed flesh?

"Well," Cattaneo says, "women historically have been more objectified than men." After some reflection on this startling pronouncement, I have no choice but to agree. But why have women been more objectified than men? Cattaneo says he doesn't know. He's only a filmmaker and he wants to go home.

Cattaneo grew up in London and launched his film career at the Royal College of Art, during which time he won an award for one of his music videos and an Oscar nomination for one of his shorts, "Dear Rosie." This early success ironically led to his closest brush with working-class conditions, as a newly swollen head landed him out of school, out of work, and out of dough. But the setback was only temporary, and Cattaneo was soon directing a British TV series that led to a BBC film (Loved Up) and then a contract with Fox Searchlight to finish the financially strapped Monty.

Cattaneo seems somewhat uneasy discussing his background, perhaps because it bears no trace of his characters' manual labor. But there's no denying his connection to the film's regular Joes--who he regards with great affection (as conceived by Monty screenwriter and Sheffield native Simon Beaufoy). "It's all there in [Beaufoy's] script," Cattaneo says, "the gallows humor, the boys taking the piss out of each other to make it through the day." The dialogue is indeed funny, mordant, and often charming, like the boys who utter it. And the director manages to emphasize the story's more poignant aspects as well: the economic and spiritual displacement of men like Gaz (Robert Carlyle, last seen as the psychotic Begbie in Trainspotting), who loses the respect of his son while his ex-wife takes a high-level factory job.

Cattaneo continues to talk about the fish-out-of-water premise, how it's been used since the days of Greek amphitheaters. All in vain. This writer would rather ply him with more genital-oriented queries, like, "How does the woman at the beginning of the film pee standing up, even splashing the tiles on the ladies' room wall?" "Old girl-scout trick" is all he has to say about that one--although he does admit that this gag sets the tone for a humorous look at his male characters' perceived emasculation.

Speaking of which: Isn't it interesting that the more you conceal something, the more powerful it becomes? (Note, for instance, the aerobic contortions in this very text, practiced so as to avoid naming the body part in question.) Cattaneo wiggles backward in his chair, holding his cup of tea protectively in front of him. He can't help but elicit sympathy. Here he's made this charming, funny, decent little film that actually manages to touch on a few ideas in an accessible manner, and all anyone wants to talk about is...

The Full Monty is playing at the Uptown Theatre.

 
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