Iris Prize LGBT+ Film Festival Review 2021: Saint-Narcisse

Saint-Narcisse, the latest work from provocative queercore icon Bruce LaBruce, tackles an expected amount of food for thought as it delves into the worlds of narcissism, religious depravity, and eroticism. LaBruce does this with his expected queer punk sensibilities, yet injects a sense of elegance through lush rural cinematography and a sweepingly timeless classical score.

Penned by LaBruce alongside Martin Girard, Saint-Narcisse follows self-obsessed young man Dominic (Félix-Antoine Duval) shaken by the death of his grandmother. The revelation that his mother (Tania Kontoyanni) is alive and well after being presumed dead – and is living in the woods with suspected witch Irene (Alexandra Petrachuk) – spurs him on a mission to reconnect. A further surprise comes in the form of Daniel (also Duval) – his recently-discovered twin brother who is living life at a homoerotic monastery with a sinister, manipulative priest. Will this off-kilter family unit be reconnected?

True to LaBruce’s provocative fashion, the opening shot sees Daniel introduced in a 1972 laundrette, shot from his crotch housed in tight denim, with the camera panning up to reveal the handsome cinematic newcomer. Eyes are quickly made with a nearby young woman before the two are stripped and cavorting in the laundrette to the awe and amazement of a crowd of onlookers. It’s an asserting start that sets up Daniel as a highly sexed character, with his narcissistic elements introduced in scene where he later takes a series of shirtless polaroids to admire whilst his grandmother lies bedridden. LaBruce packs the film with lashings of queer fetishistic imagery from its early moments from the tight seventies denims to Daniel’s leather-clad biker look as he rides into the wilderness of rural Quebec to hunt down his family.

Michel La Veaux’s cinematography is on point throughout, whether capturing the seventies sleaze of intercourse in a shabby laundrette to the striking greens and browns of the Quebec forest locales. With an eye for iconography, Le Veaux captures the later scenes exploring the film’s religious elements with a grandiose sense of religious Gothic macabre and cynicism calling to mind the likes of Derek Jarman’s Caravaggio and Orlando. When living in his mother’s rural farmhouse, Daniel’s observations of a nearby monastery and his doppelganger Dominic – one of the monks, is explored with a near fratboy-esque style with La Bruce further subverting the pious imagery of monks.

La Bruce’s take on the monastery run by Father Andrew (Andreas Apergis) is an unsettling one – heightened by a bold score by Christophe Lamarche-Ledoux – that subverts Christian iconography with a punkish charm. The roguish antics of the monks and the lack of sexual repression – captured in homoerotic scenes of male bonding and Daniel’s flagging of himself whilst pleasuring himself to a male catalogue model establishes these queer themes coinciding with the religious setting. Father Andrew’s manipulation of Daniel also gives the film an uneasy energy with the elder priest gaining pleasure through Daniel performing as his own personal Saint Sebastian.

The introduction of some hand-drawn scenes give Saint-Narcisse, a vibrant punkish aesthetic which coincides surprisingly well with the elegant cinematography and sweeping score. It all blends together to help LaBruce’s film shine as a dynamic and exuberant yet with a rough seventies charm. This is carried through the blossoming relationship between Daniel and Dominic which sees LaBruce put his extroverted swagger onto the classic Greek myth of Narcissus with a sultry sexually-charged energy.

Saint-Narcisse presents Bruce LaBruce at his best: vibrant, sexually-charged and transgressive. Delving into religious hypocrisy and contemporary self-absorption with an elegant aesthetic clout helps this shine as one of the Canadian filmmaker’s strongest moments.

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