'The Misandrists': Film Review | Berlin 2017
The Female Liberation Army plots a new world order without men, using lesbian porn to spread the word in Bruce LaBruce's campy lampoon of radical politics.
Berlin Panorama darling Bruce LaBruce returns with The Misandrists, a playful provocation about a lesbian separatist terrorist cell called the Female Liberation Army, plotting to topple the patriarchy and using porn as their chief propaganda tool. Despite name-checking Schopenhauer and Ulrike Meinhof, and including a brief lecture on parthenogenesis, the movie is far more silly than subversive. At first, there's a certain cheesy charm to the Eurotrash '70s aesthetic, with a cast of minimally skilled actors spouting lines like, "Young lady, have you seen anything queer in the area?" But any resemblance to a coherent thesis is purely coincidental.
Canadian filmmaker LaBruce fluttered around the edges of the New Queer Cinema movement in the mid-'90s with features like Super 8½ and Hustler White, the latter arguably the closest he ever ventured to mainstream indie respectability. More often, his films have been mock-Brechtian sexercises with faux-nouvelle vague flourishes, wooden acting and cheeky titles like No Skin Off My Ass or Give Piece of Ass a Chance.
After taking a somewhat conventional detour in 2013 with Gerontophilia, a radical cross-generational love story that was surprisingly tame, he's back in outre territory here. That should guarantee The Misandrists a modicum of exposure through specialized LGBT platforms. Or at least those where a graphic vaginoplasty or jumbo butt-plug insertion is considered palatable viewing.
The movie is billed as a companion piece to the director's 2005 feature, The Raspberry Reich, which starred Susanne Sachsse as an anarchist leader whose plan to liberate the oppressed involved forcing her male acolytes to have sex with one another. This time around, the platinum-wigged Sachsse plays Big Mother, whose cover is an isolated convent school for abused and delinquent girls in the German countryside. In reality, students and teachers are the nucleus of a plan to build an army of female lovers bent on erasing men from society. But into that lesbian separatist stronghold, a man is introduced when Isolde (Kita Updike) finds injured anti-capitalist radical Volker (Til Schindler) in the woods, and hides him in the basement while she nurses him back to health.
LaBruce's script introduces us to each of the FLA soldiers and their various couplings, while Big Mother elaborates on her (wo)manifesto over dinner. In preparation to make the first of the lesbian porn films with which the group will spread its message, the two official pornographers are required to study gay male raunch videos for technique. Juicy flashes of that research material seem less justified by plot requirements than by LaBruce throwing a bone, so to speak, to his core audience.
Big Mother demands that the girls share freely in one another's carnal delights, and slow-mo sexy pillow fights give the impression of a utopian collective on a giddy estrogen high. But dissent grows in the ranks, beginning when lovestruck Hilde (Olivia Kundisch) can't persuade Isolde to sleep with her, so she blabs about her basement guest. Isolde may have another secret, and there's also an undercover cop in their midst, though her insatiable Sapphic appetites have made her a convert to the cause. Even the politically sympathetic Volker proves open to recruitment, though his eligibility requires surgical adjustments.
All this is certainly campy and demented, led by a game bunch of women whose assortment of accents and self-conscious performance styles recall both European softcore porn of the Emmanuelle era and the vintage Italian schlock horror of Lucio Fulci. LaBruce acknowledges an element of homage to Don Siegel's The Beguiled and Robert Aldrich's The Dirty Dozen.
But the plotting grows haphazard and illogical; the female-forward linguistic correctives (an unexpected knock at the door prompts one FLA soldier to exclaim: "Who could it be at this ungoddessly hour?") eventually get tired; the supposed celebration of feminist ideals merely trivializes them; and the satirical jabs at leftist extremists get diluted by increasingly lame repetition and an ineffectual finale. Though stick around to the end if you want a novel serving suggestion for boiled eggs at your next brunch.
Cast: Susanne Sachsse, Viva Ruiz, Kembra Pfahler, Caprice Crawford, Grete Gehrke, Kita Updike, Victoire Laly, Lo-Fi Cherry, Olivia Kundisch, Serenity Rosa, Sam Dye, Lina Bembe, Barb Ara, Til Schindler, Dominik Hermanns
Production companies: Amard Bird Films, Jurgen Bruning Filmproduktion
Director-screenwriter: Bruce LaBruce
Producers: Paula Alamillo Rodriguez, Jurgen Bruning, Sonja Klumper, Bruce LaBruce
Executive producers: Alexandre Dieval, Claus Matthes, Bjorn Koll
Director of photography: James Carman
Production designer: Desi Santiago
Costume designer: Ramona Petersen
Music: BunnyCat Productions
Editor: Judy Landkammer
Casting: Bruce LaBruce
Venue: Berlin Film Festival (Panorama)
Sales: Rasberry & Cream