Directed by Bruce LaBruce (2017)
Starring Susanne Sachße, Viva Ruiz, and Kembra Pfahler
Running time 1 hour 31 minutes
MPAA rating: Not rated (but if it were, it’d have plenty of Xs)
by Anthony Glassman
At some level, one suspects that Bruce LaBruce realizes that he cannot be the enfant terrible of the queer cinema world at the tender age of 54. It was tenuous when he busted out with No Skin Off My Ass when he was 29, even though its connections back to his publication of the queer punk zine J.D. even earlier lends more credence.
Regardless, he's still going, and is still encumbered with that designation, having traveled halfway across the world to find funding for making his unique brand of brown bunnies. He long ago realized that it was a lot easier finding producers willing to toss cash into his cauldron in Germany than it was in Canada or the coven of Puritans to the south, and ever since, he's been ramming his films down censors' throats like Jeff Stryker on Cialis.
His latest film, The Misandrists, is both fairly typical of his Teutonic output and almost completely dissimilar from anything he has put forth before. First of all, as can be surmised from the title, it probably has fewer penises in it than any film he ever directed. Second, and connected to the first point, it's the only time he has focused his camera so directly on a cast comprised almost completely of women.
So, the plot: Somewhere in the wilds of 1999 Deutschland, a group of women are plotting a women's revolution. Instead of simply asserting equality, having a nice 50/50 split of a corrupt system that completely fucks everyone that is not in the uppermost echelon of society, they want to completely overthrow the patriarchal society and elevate the world into one where men are completely surplus to requirements. There are four teachers and eight younger women, all plucked from violence, debasement, exploitation, and crime and put into an environment where they can be nurtured and inducted into the fight.
They are led by Big Mother, who wants the world to “wake up and smell the estrogen.” Played by Susanne Sachße (and the audience might be forgiven for mistaking her for Jennifer Saunders going undercover as an absolutely fabulous German woman), she has brought together this group, which plans to conquer the planet through the milieu of weaponized lesbian pornography. Among the other teachers are Sister Dagmar (Viva Ruiz, a musician, performance artist and actor) who is the most empathetic of the quartet; Sister Kembra (Kembra Pfahler of The Voluptuous Horror of Karen Black, looking for all the world like Polly Bergen in John Waters' Cry-Baby), and Sister Barbara (Caprice Crawford, an American actress who moved to Europe but still works on both continents).
Add in the drama of an escaped Baader-Meinhof Gang-esque soldier who attacked the German stock exchange, a student whose loyalty might not be with the group and another who might not be what she seems, and you've got Bruce LaBruce being himself all over the place.
It is, as is generally the case in his films, a great story told passably well. He has a tendency to gloss over bits when tumbling towards the end of the tale. Sister Dagmar tells one student that she expects Big Mother will “come around” about a specific issue (no spoilers here, baby. Suffer.) but the audience never sees that actual change. It's like Chekhov's shotgun on the mantle, only the audience never gets to see it being used, the curtain simply raises on Act 2 with a dead body on the ground.
There is also the interesting aspect of the male gaze. What is the male gaze when the male doing the gazing (as well as probably about 99 percent of the males who will watch the film) have minimal interest sexually in the women being gazed at? There are a number of make-out and lighter sex scenes that make the camera (and through it, the audience) feel like completely dispassionate observers. There is almost no eroticism at these points. It's as though LaBruce is muttering to himself, “Okay, here's a breast. Here's another. Whatever.”
By the same token, however, he has an almost completely egalitarian group of women doing these things. Some are traditionally attractive, but he did not make an effort to put together a good-looking cast. He works with people who will sign on to his vision, and those are artistic types. There are no heavyset women in the cast, but if you ignore that, the cast is almost as “real” looking as that of Orange Is the New Black.
When the women make their porn bomb, that is when the screen gets steamy. LaBruce does not believe in simulated sex in films unless absolutely necessary, so one brief (but pivotal) scene is likely simulated; the actual weaponized smut later, however, is anything but. There are things going places, you betcha. He also, unlike what one would expect from a heterosexual male directing a film involving lesbian sex, does not rely on dildos, vibrators, and harnesses. Apparently, his lesbian friends told him that women have enough appendages that can be used that they are unnecessary, so that was a pleasant surprise. He also eschewed the ridiculous The L Word sex trope of one woman sitting on the other's lap.
The film fits well with Raspberry Reich and Otto: Or, Up With Dead People, a de facto trio of heavy-handed political commentaries connecting true liberation with sexuality. And, if past is prologue and history is doomed to repeat itself, we know this won't be the last such film he makes. To quote the title of one of his books, we'll just tell him: Ride queer, ride.