Edinburgh Film Festival Review: Devorah Baum & Josh Appignanesi’s ‘Husband’

Married couple Devorah Baum and Josh Appignanesi co-direct and produce the confessional documentary Husband, world premiering at the Edinburgh International Film Festival. Baum is a successful author, academic and speaker; Appignanesi won rave reviews for his last film, Female Human Animal, after his debut, Song of Songs, won awards at London and Edinburgh. And yet, both these Brits are beset by neuroses, as this frank film shows — or possibly exaggerates: the press notes describe it as being “on the cusp between auto-fiction and documentary.”

Framed as a follow-up to their 2016 documentary The New Man, Husband is an uneasy and uncertain watch that provokes thought about relationships and feelings while occasionally amusing, in an uncomfortable sort of way. 

The key story takes place in the U.S., where Baum is promoting a book she has written about dealing with feelings such as guilt, paranoia, envy and self-hatred. With two small children in tow, she’s hoping Appignanesi will be there to help from the start — but he’s lost his passport. When he eventually arrives, he’s focused on making this film and confessing his insecurities to Baum, something that doesn’t appear to help her deal with her own.

Watching this pair share their angst can be painful, and annoying, but one senses that Appignanesi is ready to send himself up for dark comedy value.

There’s an almost-funny scene in which the couple exits a comedy club in New York. He’s thrilled to have organized an entertaining outing and is defensive when she suggests it’s a commercial tourist trap for white audiences. There’s plenty to understand and analyze in both reactions, should you have a touch of the amateur psychologist about you. 

Husband is probably best viewed with audiences able to laugh along with Appignanesi about his failings — it’s slightly harder to watch Baum’s reactions to being filmed as she fights self-doubt on tour. Watching her talk on stage, with hosts such as Zadie Smith, is fascinating: this works as good promo for her book, Feeling Jewish (A Book for Just About Anyone). But the biggest takeaway from this is that if you’re anxious, and take it out on your partner, you’re not alone — which makes Husband a relatable film, if not Appignanesi’s most compelling.

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