You’d better watch out when living queer cinema legend Bruce LaBruce makes a movie. He may be getting older chronologically but he sure ain’t mellowing. The Canadian has long ridden the wave of the avant-garde and now he has truly crashed the party. This time he lands in a commune somewhere in
Ger(wo)many where the Female Liberation Army (FLA) lives a sheltered sensual life in their compound. Only women allowed. What these cells are up to is a conspiracy to shoot and distribute lesbian porn as a weapon to take the world by storm and stamp out the patriarchy and then install a new matriarchal world order.
LaBruce’s The Misandrists is reminiscent of such classic screen comedies as Robert Altman’s Nashville and Mike Judge’s Idiocracy in its uncompromisingly satirical assault. But most of all, it recalls Federico Fellini’s fantastical City of Women, the maestro auteur’s speculation on male displacement in a city filled with and run by women. Reactions to that film 38 years ago were mixed. It clearly threatened middle class men who had yet to examine the advantages society offers them.
In this particular satirical assault, LaBruce takes lesbian separatism to the limit. The FLA commune is strangely reminiscent of a medieval Roman Catholic convent, inverted, however, with a radically and unabashedly pagan theology. Big Mother (a haughtily intimidating Susanne Sachsse) is every bit as restrictive as a 13th century Mother Abbess. Her belief system is essentially handed down by the Goddess of the Universe. Her fellow sisters are also teachers, each of whom have their distinctive areas of women’s studies. They dress in nun habits while the younger novitiates are in standard European school uniforms, garments to reinforce equality and conformity.
Paradoxically or ironically, depending on your view, the FLA is stringently hierarchic, though lesbian lovemaking is encouraged. As is sexual coercion. This, of course, is a recipe for discontent, if not, revolt. Therefore, when the dreamily handsome Volker (Til Schindler), a white male Marxist militant on the lam, is given the milk of human kindness by two of the commune’s young novitiates—transgender person of color, Isolde (Kita Updike), and the girl who adores her, Hilde (Olivia Kundisch)—the virile young buck is secretly hidden in the commune’s cellar.
When a wholesome young policeman comes looking for the fugitive, Big Mother refuses him entry because of his gender. However, she does allow him to question the girls in an outdoor line-up. Oh, the tension as only Isolde and Hilde know that Volker is on site!
Updike is endearingly human as young person torn between what LaBruce asserts as the two branches of the same left-wing ideology — 1. feminism and 2. centralized economic redistribution of wealth. When the lesbian porn venture goose steps into something going against the will of some of its participants, you may wonder whether or not if Isolde will cross into the realm of sadism. You’ll have to see the film to find that out. Be warned, it gets quite graphic and bloody.
Among The Misandrists’s most arresting qualities is how its dialogue utterly glistens with feminist hyperbole organically integrated into the entire script. Like the movie Nightcrawler, wherein Jake Gyllenhaal speaks in blend of corporate and therapeutic terminology, we see how jargon has actually supplanted regular speech and by extension the thought process itself. It is difficult to discern if LaBruce is simply being playfully tongue-in-cheek and wickedly camp or hectoring us as a cautionary Cassandra foreseeing the ashen wages of where demagoguery may ultimately lead. Indeed, the FLA states its commonality with the Marxist revolutionary movement, whose legacy is Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, the Kim dynasty, and Castro. It’s hard to not consider how Cuba’s El Morro prison symbolized communism’s systematically brutal persecution of gays.
Nonetheless, queer media has embraced The Misandrists and heralds it as heretically mischievous entertainment and oh what fun! Irreverence soars to a whole new level. And yes indeed, The Misandrists is most certainly devilish fun. Some will either gleefully or derisively call it Satanic—taken well beyond usual limits. If you’re not too squeamish, it’s a must-see picture.
Screens midnight June 6 and 7
Uptown Theatre, 2906 Hennepin Ave., Minneapolis