Major points for style and just plain kinkiness go to Canadian Bruce LaBruce for his latest cinematic toying with taboos, “Saint-Narcisse.”
When you see and review 1,000 movies a year, any filmmaker who makes you sit up and go, “Well, that’s weird” and “never seen THAT” gets to take bow.
The director of “Gerontophilia,” the “gay ‘Harold and Maude,'” the groundbreaking queer horror film “Otto: Up with Dead People” and the controversial “L.A. Zombies” crosses lines again with a film that takes “self-love” to a dark and twisted extreme, and has a little fun with it along the way.
Dominic (Félix-Antoine Duval) is “a beautiful guy” who doesn’t need to be reminded of it by strangers. He can see that in the mirror, which he stares into a lot more than is wholly healthy. Dominic is 22, lives with and takes care of his Quebecoise grandmother, fending off her “When are you getting married?” questions, fantasizing about having instant, impulsive sex with any random fellow beauty he runs into at the laundromat.
The thing is, the real pleasure in that imaginary raw-dogging is in spying the shocked passers-by looking in the window, and seeing his own gorgeous reflection in “the act” in that window.
Dominic walks the streets with a Polaroid instant-camera, snapping shots of himself from different angles in different locations, handing those snaps to strangers. It’s 1972, and he’s just invented “the selfie” and “Instagram.”
But grandma was holding out on him, something that only becomes clear after her death. She and his late father raised him, telling him his mother died. But locked in a strongbox in granny’s closet is evidence to the contrary. His mother is alive. She sent letters. There’s nothing for it but to motorbike to distant Saint-Narcisse, meet the woman in the woods the locals call “a witch,” and meet the much younger woman “who never seems to age” living with her.
Once there, camping out in a cemetery next to a grave with his name on it, he figures out that other people were told HE was dead.
And then there’s this secretive and seemingly perverse “order” of Catholic monks secluded in a monastery on the edge of town, a group he spies on as they smoke, skinny dip and horseplay the way you’d never imagine monks carrying on.
The bilingual Félix-Antoine Duval — the film is in English or subtitled French — makes a curious, confused and yet cocky leading man out of Dominic. He has the confidence of the beautiful-and-I-know-it, brashly stripping and taking an outdoor shower in front of the furious young woodswoman (Alexandra Petrachuk) he finds his mother living with.
Mom (Tania Kontoyanni) has but to look at him to “recognize my own son.” The power struggle that ensues in that house is but a sideshow for the self-absorbed, self-loving bisexual Dominic. He spies one of those monks, and eventually we figure out what or who has his attention.
LaBruce feeds us three points of view, slipping away from Dominic to show us mother Beatrice and lover or daughter figure Irene’s quarrels, and the kinky intrigues of the Saint-Narcisse monastery, where paranoid Father Andrew (Andreas Apergis) may have reasons for his paranoia.
LaBruce juxtaposes the beautiful/accusatory Jesus hanging on the cross in that monastery with the goings-on there, and in the movie in general.
He pokes heteronormative judgement and homosexual narcissism in equal measure.
With “Saint-Narcisse,” he gives us a young man’s search for his identity, an early ’70s “know yourself” fanatic who feels incomplete for reasons he can’t put a finger on. He will find answers, and what he does with that “discovery” will be merely the latest and greatest taboo Bruce LaBruce gets around to in his unsettling and faintly amusing riff on sexual identity and the outer limits of searching for it.
Rating: unrated, violence, sex, nudity
Cast: Félix-Antoine Duval, Tania Kontoyanni, Alexandra Petrachuk and Andreas Apergis
Credits: Directed by Bruce LaBruce, scripted by Bruce LaBruce and Martin Gerard. A Film Movement+ release.
Running time: 1:41