Film Review: Saint-Narcisse

Reviewer: Richard Maguire

Writers: Bruce LaBruce and Martin Girard

Director: Bruce La Bruce

When you’ve had your fill of lesbian nuns in Paul Verhoeven’s schlocky Benedetta, you can always turn to Bruce La Bruce’s newest taboo-busting film for some gay monk action. The tagline for Saint-Narcisse is Love Thyself, and with a pair of identical twins, it’s not that difficult to see where the narrative’s headed. With some bad acting and with a few nods to Hammer Horror, Saint-Narcisse is nevertheless not quite smutty or camp enough to stand alongside some of La Bruce’s other films.

Perhaps queer director La Bruce’s best films are Otto: or Up with Dead People (2008) about a man who thinks he’s a zombie in Berlin and Gerontophilia (2013), a good-natured love story about a young man who has a thing for older men – much older men. More Granddaddy Issues, than Daddy Issues. With his newest movie, La Bruce is keen to break more taboos. However it doesn’t feel very ground-breaking as these taboos are regularly broken in pornographic fantasies.

Knowing that his story lies in erotica, Saint-Narcisse begins like a porno, and a straight one at that. In a 1970s launderette handsome Dominic is watching the spin-dryers while eyeing up a woman who chain-smokes beside him. Soon they are ripping off their clothes and having sex while passers-by peer in. It’s the best scene in the whole film, and seems a riff on trashy pornographic narratives as well as those Levi’s commercials of the 1980s.

Dominic – played earnestly by Félix-Antoine Duval – lives with his grandmother, but one day he finds letters from his mother making clear that she didn’t abandon him after her affair with another woman. The letters have an address too; she lives in a village called Saint-Narcisse, and soon he’s donning motorbike leathers and zooming off to find her. As he searches the village, he spots a monk who bears an uncanny resemblance.

The film’s Wikipedia page has a name for such plots: twincest. The sex scenes are not particularly erotic although it’s not clear whether this is deliberate or not. Of course, Duval plays the other twin too, and here is more successful because Daniel has a dark side that is far more interesting than Dominic’s open-heartedness. Intent on seducing them both is Irene (Alexandra Petrachuk), who could be their sister or their mother’s lover or both or neither.

While La Bruce may be trying to shock audiences, he’s also careful to promote the importance of consent and choice in a subplot concerning Daniel and the leader of the monastery, Father Andrew. With God as the figurehead, the religious order acts as a patriarchy. In contrast, Dominic’s family is led by his mother, who is not afraid of breaking the rules.

La Bruce’s films work best in a festival setting where the audience knows already what to expect, and there will be loud laughs at the way La Bruce plays with romantic tropes in Saint-Narcisse. But those unfamiliar with his work may be mystified at the tonal choices and the mix of thriller and comedy genres. La Bruce’s movies are always something to look forward to, but this case of ‘keeping it in the family’ is not one of his best.

Peccadillo Pictures release Saint-Narcisse in cinemas on 22 April.

The Reviews Hub Score:

A Family Business

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The Reviews Hub Film Team is under the editorship of Maryam Philpott.

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