Saint-Narcisse isn’t LaBruce’s most audacious film, but it reflects a new, thoughtful instance of his particular audacity.
There is surely more space in Hollywood for queer cinema than ever before, but this visibility inevitably comes with an obligation to play towards the industry’s conservatism. But this is why it’s such a blessing that Bruce LaBruce continues to make the sort of movie that he makes — and with some regularity, too! Born out of a punk tradition, and steeped in the aesthetics of porn and soap opera narrativizing, LaBruce’s films are political, funny, and sexy in ways that so often elude contemporary queer cinema in the west. His latest film, the Quebecois erotic doppelgänger thriller Saint-Narcisse, isn’t so different in these respects. In fact, it may be the slickest manifestation of LaBruce’s cinematic stylings yet.
The slickness can be attributed to a jump in budget for LaBruce which allows him to indulge in the best digital cinematography of his career, while also limiting the extremity of his usual provocations (no unsimulated sex, nor anything as intense as the genital reconstruction footage in The Misandrists). Still, critiquing Saint-Narcisse’s ability to push buttons is really only appropriate in point of comparison to the rest of LaBruce’s filmography. Set in 1972, the film concerns itself with Félix-Antoine Duval’s Dominic as he attempts to make contact with his absent mother in the wake of his grandmother’s death. Naturally, Dominic comes to find that his mother is in fact a lesbian witch living in the woods with her ageless lover, and that he also has an identical twin brother imprisoned in a monastery by a predatory priest with a St. Sebastian fetish. Lord knows that many an exhausting script has been reverse engineered from similar sorts of faux-eclectic groupings of trope and archetype, but Saint-Narcisse is founded on a remarkably deft script that manages to thread all these strands together in a way that makes a shocking amount of sense. Yet, while this might be the film’s most impressive aspect, it’s also what holds it back, for at times things make a little too much sense. This is to say that the screenplay does too good a job of underplaying its more gonzo elements, prioritizing tonal consistency above all else. Still, what may have been lost in terms of edge and verve can hardly negate the joy of LaBruce’s debauched gay sensibility. It also doesn’t take away from Saint-Narcisse’s timely celebration of families formed outside of nuclear, patriarchal arrangements, which Labruce has championed his whole career. Saint-Narcisse may not ultimately be LaBruce’s most audacious film, but it is a new, thoughtful instance of his particular brand of audacity.
Originally published as part of Venice International Film Festival 2020 — Dispatch 3.