Nietzsche wrote, "One who attempts independence is not only strong but daring to the point of recklessness." Speaking of independence, the independent film industry at large has lately had a hard time pushing its more daring players, particularly the queer ones, for whom respectability politics is often the name of the game. Bruce LaBruce has never played that way, so it is perhaps fitting that his reckless new movie The Misandrists had to be made in Germany, without even the help of the public funds available to Canadian independent filmmakers.
Though LaBruce was one of the major figures of the New Queer Cinema of the nineties, he was never in thematic step with his contemporaries. As the years went on, his movies leaned into the punk anguish that characterized early features like No Skin Off My Ass and Hustler White. At the same time, he muddled his messages with extreme gore and hardcore sex, marking bold new territory for queer cinema but deliberately limiting his audience.
He may not gain any new fans with The Misandrists, his academically rigorous and politically explosive retooling of the Clint Eastwood classic The Beguiled, but he will more than engage his devotees. We begin with a uniformed young radical - white and male - who limps through the woods on a wounded knee and collapses beside the stronghold of the Female Liberation Army, a radical feminist terrorist cell. Its name deliberately calls to mind the era of second-wave lesbian separatism and the Symbionese Liberation Army, and LaBruce has a lot of fun dramatizing unequivocal ideological pieties.
Once we enter into the FLA collective, we are hit with a cackling cocktail of political banter and wordplay: Based in Ger(wo)many, the group's current objective is to create a new genre of lesbian porn, which will posit women authentically as subjects and not objects of the male gaze as a tool of revolution. LaBruce has an eye for strong faces, and he fills the screen with a fascinating company of women who cross demographic lines of age, race, and sexuality. Among them are a hilarious Susanne Schasse, the iconic New York performance artist Kembra Pfahler, and unique young actors with fabulous names like Lo-Fi Cherry and Serenity Rosa.
Our sympathies and attention - as well as LaBruce's - are with Isolde (played warmly by Kita Updike), a transgender woman of color who feels pity for the male soldier hidden in the fort's basement. Along with her personal experiences outside the gender binary, this covert love story feeds her budding skepticism about the FLA, and though LaBruce's storytelling runs into some dead ends, the energy of Isolde's narrative more than carries the day.
Violent, funny, and explicit, LaBruce glides delicately between swooning romanticism and roaring camp satire typified by one-liners such as "The quickest way through a man's heart is through his chest!" A humanistic love letter to messy politics among the marginalized, The Misandrists has something to enrage everyone - myself included - but thankfully, it knows that the surefire way to an audience's brain is through its heart.