Since making his debut with 1991’s No Skin Off My Ass, Toronto filmmaker Bruce LaBruce has challenged audiences with his startling, sexually explicit films whose subject matter has included amputee sex, hardcore porn, gang-rape, castration and racially-motivated violence. Following 2013’s Gerontophilia, however, LaBruce changed direction, eschewing the extreme for a more meditative approach to his ongoing fascination with sexual taboos.
With Saint-Narcisse, he has crafted his most accomplished piece of transgressive cinema to date. Nominated for the Queer Lion award at Venice Film Festival, this anarchic love letter to 1970s psychosexual thrillers looks certain to mark a turning point for queer cinema’s former enfant terrible. But never fear; he still has a few shocks in store – this time, its twincest.
Félix-Antoine Duval stars as 22-year-old Dominic, a sexually-adventurous young man in love with his reflection but doesn’t really know himself fully. Finding some unopened letters in his grandmothers’ closet, he discovers a family secret: his mother Beatrice (Tania Kontoyanni) didn’t die in childbirth. Determined to uncover the truth, Dominic heads to the parish town of Saint-Narcisse, north of Montreal, where he is shocked to find a tombstone inscribed with his name and date of death in a local graveyard.
Finally tracking down his mother (who the locals have labelled a witch), he discovers she’s a lesbian who was excommunicated by the church and was led to believe Dominic was stillborn. Now she lives in exile in a cabin in the woods with Irene (Alexandra Petrachuk), her late lover’s daughter. But Dominic also learns he has a twin. Sequestered in a remote monastery since birth, Daniel is being raised and groomed by a priest, Father Andrew (Andreas Apergis), who believes he is the reincarnation of Saint Sebastian.
Whether dressed in leathers and sporting stubble or naked and shaved, Duval has the look of the divine about him, and his sex scenes (with himself) are both erotic and very tender indeed. It takes a good hour before the twins meet, but LaBruce uses that time to develop the narrative and his characters fully. Setting the film in 1972 also allows him to explore critical issues, such as children being taken away from their mothers (who happen to be lesbian or even just unmarried) and priests preying on the young men in their care.
I won’t reveal what happens, but LaBruce comes up trumps with a scene involving a St Andrew’s Cross, communion wafers, a wedding dress and some Caravaggio-inspired lighting that will stay with you long after the ending.
Kudos go to Andreas Apergis (who appeared in X-Men: Days of Future Past and the US version of Being Human) as the film’s villain, the depraved Father Andrew. If his scary eyes don’t creep you out, his toe licking of the equally scary-eyed Saint Sebastian statue will. Oh, and that scene with the (very fit) monks skinny-dipping is gloriously gratuitous.
Saint-Narcisse will be released theatrically in the UK on 22 April
with a DVD and digital release from Peccadillo Pictures on 2 May 2022