Bruce LaBruce’s aesthetics used to match his in-your-face revolutionary spirit. No Skin Off My Ass, Hustler White, and Super 8½ proudly embodied a “poor image” look that meant to mock the slick conventions of Hollywood cinema. LaBruce’s latest provocation, The Misandrists, reinforces a shift in his filmmaking that can be traced back to 2013’s Gerontophilia, where the Canadian filmmaker utilizes the tools of the masters to dismantle the master’s house, as it were, cloaking the revolution in conventional garb.
It’s as if the old punk has put down the makeshift ethos of safety pins in favor of glossy couture and seamless tailoring. In The Misandrists, the acting is still purposefully stiff, the content unabashedly sexual, and the dialogue affectedly pedagogic, with lines like, “Pornography is an act of insurrection against the dominant order” and “Only nuns and prostitutes can escape man while still being subjected to him.” But gone is the home-video realness of The Raspberry Reich and narrative experimentation of Otto; or, Up with Dead People, which included a ghostly character who turned the film into a black-and-white silent cinematic experience every time she appeared on screen.
In Otto, the orgy scenes involved flesh-eating and turning every part of the body into an orifice. Apart from one moment in The Misandrists when a group of lesbians donning surgical gloves surround a man strapped to a stretcher and take Valerie Solanas’s manifesto “Society for Cutting Up Men” quite literally, the sexual outbursts in the film are tempered with a tenderness that one hardly associates with LaBruce’s career. What’s missing here is LaBruce’s erotic interest in his subjects, who are all women, his commitment to their sex and nudity perhaps being too cerebral for sparks to actually fly.
The film is set at a separatist radical feminist stronghold, a halfway house for troubled girls, and its plot is similar to that of The Beguiled, beginning with two girls who find an injured man, Volker (Til Schindler), close to the property and shelter him clandestinely in the basement for fear of triggering the dissatisfaction of their leader, Big Mother (Susanne Sachße, LaBruce’s longtime muse). Although the hiding of Volker is played as if it’s a crucial part of the film’s premise, it gets quickly subsumed by LaBruce’s insistence in staging tame lesbian sex scenes, rehashing his penchant for characters quoting philosophers—here it’s Schopenhauer—and delivering mouthfuls of overtly professorial lines that state his political positions.
In past LaBruce films, such positions involved the notion that heterosexuality is the opium of the masses, or that Madonna is counter-revolutionary. But in 2018, it might be more difficult to neatly distinguish a subversive artist from a politically correct one, and, sadly, The Misandrists seems to out LaBruce as closer to the latter. One scene involving a transgender girl, Isolde (Kita Updike) seems to have been included only for the sake of marking LaBruce’s stance vis-à-vis essentialist versus trans-inclusive feminist discourses around who counts as a woman. Volker makes out with Isolde, finds out she has a cock, and promptly accuses her of deceiving him. She responds by saying that he’s the one who deceived himself and declares their encounter the perfect opportunity for him “to reconcile his revolutionary beliefs with his sexual politics.” He obliges, promptly blowing her, and then everyone is off to yet another sermon about how lesbian porn can be revolutionary.