Saint-Narcisse: Doubly Penetrative, by David Bax
Director Bruce La Bruce has been making films since the mid-1990s but, despite Hustler White being a somewhat popular rental at the independent video store where I worked in Chicago during my college years, I’ll admit to not really paying attention until 2010’s L.A. Zombie, a famously banned and/or edited in certain parts of the globe zombie movie that is roughly 40% non-simulated gay sex. The internet tells me that La Bruce dropped the explicit content from his style starting with his next feature, 2013’s Gerontophilia but, given that his newest, the pensively kinky Saint-Narcisse, starts with a close-up of its lead actor’s crotch in tight jeans, I wondered briefly (no pun intended) if he’d change his mind back. But–though few would have reason to complain, given the physical beauty of most of the cast here–Saint-Narcisse achieves its taboo beauty without entering NC-17 territory.
That crotch shot opening turns out to be part of a ribald, comedic sequence that has little to do with Saint-Narcisse‘s main threads but does establish that our hero, Dominic (Félix-Antoine Duval) spends most of his time caring for his ailing grandmother (Angèle Coutu). Other than that, Dominic is very lonely. And he is very horny.
With the exception of the occasional late model car (not to mention the digital cinematography), Saint-Narcisse often feels like a 1970s period piece. Truthfully, it’s more of a throwback. It might not be quite as committed as Anna Biller’s transporting, seductive The Love Witch but the zoom lenses and the scarcity of post-production, digital intermediate color timing are reminiscent of a time when the distance between the camera and the screen didn’t seem so vast and vapory.
There is, actually, one major thing that La Bruce’s film and Biller’s have in common, which is the presence of a witch. Well, possibly. When Dominic travels to the town of the title–a real place located about halfway between Montreal and Quebec City, to search for the mother who he believes gave him up at birth, he starts to hear rumors that she’s a wicked enchantress who lives in the woods. The suggestion of the supernatural alongside La Bruce’s tactile, empirical filmmaking style enhances Saint-Narcisse‘s cheeky charms.
Things get a little less humorous, though, when Dominic’s sexual frustration is juxtaposed against the abusive life of a young monk named Daniel (also played by Duval) who lives in a nearby monastery. Sure, it’s kind of funny that Daniel’s brethren are the absolutely hottest bunch of monks you’ve ever seen. But the sexual maltreatment of Daniel at the hands of Father Andrew (Andreas Apergis) is nothing to laugh at. In one of La Bruce’s more provocative strokes, though, he doesn’t fully abandon his pornographer’s instincts in these scenes. Pious repression’s reputation for serving as an autoclave for sexual kinks is not forgotten. The repeated evocation of the tortured, martyred Saint Sebastian is clearly germane to Daniel’s plight. But the eroticism of sticking arrows into a bound, nude man makes the allegorical more enticingly complicated.
In addition to being an actor, Duval has worked as a stuntman. You could argue that, here, he’s again been cast for his physicality above all else. His muscularity and athleticism certainly get plenty of time to shine, especially in a dual role. It’s a given, of course, that Dominic and Daniel will eventually meet. The perverse fascination of those scenes proves that La Bruce is not just a cheap provocateur but a part of the tradition of cinema. When we invented cameras, after all, wasn’t looking at ourselves the first thing we used them for?