When you think of a Bruce LaBruce project, the first thing that likely pops into your mind is a provocative, highly-sexual piece that tests the limits of taste. He’s given us sex-crazed fascists in The Raspberry Reich, undead porn in LA Zombie, and other shocking pornographic fare. But with his new film, Saint Narcisse, LaBruce takes a more classical approach, something more Gerontophilia than Raspberry Reich. Don’t get me wrong, Saint Narcisse still sexy af and dripping with controversy, but it’s a slightly more traditional entry into the LaBruce canon than we’re used to. To me, it’s a welcome contrast and is more watchable but just as challenging, in other ways, as the provocateur’s earlier stuff.
In a dual role where he plays the separated-at-birth twins Daniel and Dominic, Felix-Antoine Duval anchors Saint Narcisse. Set in Quebec in 1972, self-interested Dominic finds out that his mother Beatrice (Tania Kontoyanni) is alive and seeks her out in the titular town, whose residents accuse her of being a witch. This might be somewhat justified, as Beatrice and her partner Irene (Alexandra Petrachuk) live together in a cottage in the wilderness, and are big fans of herbs. Saint Narcisse’s focus moves to Dominic fitting awkwardly into their lifestyle. Beatrice is immediately welcoming, but Irene is…less so. There’s a suspicion that Irene might be his sister, but the family dynamic is even stranger, perhaps more scandalous, than that.
Meanwhile, identical twin brother Daniel has been living in the local monastery, a shocking revelation to Dominic, who doesn’t even know he exists. Unlike the free-spirited Dominic, Daniel is in an abusive and constrained relationship with the sadistic head priest, Father Andrew (a genuinely terrifying Andreas Apergis). Andrew believes that Dominic is the literal second coming of Saint Sebastian, whose story may or may not provide some spoilers for this film. The monastary also provides LaBruce the opportunity to make that institution as openly queer as it’s ever been implied to be, and to repurpose a fair bit of it’s iconography and instruments for the director’s sexy agenda. But let’s be honest: If you’re really tied to your Catholicism in such a way that that would bother you, you’re probably not watching this movie.
When Dominic and Daniel finally meet and, because we remember right at that moment that we’re watching a Bruce LaBruce film, get to some forbidden sexin’, the surreal scene of two identical twins getting down is compelling? Revolting? Titillating? Maybe some new, not-yet-named feeling? Either way, it’s Saint Narcisse making good on the title’s promise of self-obsession, asking in it’s unique way whether it’s possible for it to go too far.
The sense of place in Saint Narcisse is strong, and feels consistent not just in sets or costumes, but the overall 70’s kitsch, b-movie feel of the film. It reminds me, in more than one way, of Peter Strickland’s version of a kinky drama, 2014’s The Duke of Burgundy. Michel LaVeaux’s cinematography and a soundtrack that uses ‘Where Evil Grows’ by the Poppy Family give us an immediate signal of where (Quebec) and when (1972) we are.
Saint Narcisse is a high water mark for Bruce LaBruce as a director. It’s smart, scary, and often shriekingly funny. Along with his Gerontophilia (2013), which is another more traditional of his films but in my opinion is less ambitious, it’s maybe the only film of his that I’d unreservedly recommend to anyone. As much as a guy ejaculating onto a copy of Mein Kampf like LaBruce gave us in The Raspberry Reich is great fun (and has whole swaths of new significance in a world where fascism is tragically coming back into vogue), you kinda have to know your audience for that. With Saint Narcisse, you’re still being tested (what with all the twincest) but it’s a compelling story, is beautifully shot and scored, and has style for days along with one hell of a climax. But then again, that last thing has never been lacking in LaBruce’s films.
Saint Narcisse is out in limited release in Toronto today (September 24) from Northern Banner.