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  • Writer's pictureBen Turner

Saint-Narcisse ***

Starring: Félix-Antoine Duval, Tania Kontoyanni, Alexandra Petrachak, Angèle Coutu, Andreas Apergis

Director : Bruce LaBruce

Country: Canada

There’s no doubt that Queercore director Bruce LaBruce (Gerontophilia, Hustler White, The Raspberry Reich) has improved as a filmmaker over time. From grainy camcorder footage and frenzied editing, he has settled on a more refined style, even toning down the sexually explicit content of his work that was once its calling card. But, of course, LaBruce remains unafraid to be controversial and in his new film he plunges headlong into the world of monastic twincest, just this time with a HD camera and a cinematographer.

When Dominic (Duval) discovers that his mother (Kontoyanni) is alive following the death of his grandmother, he tracks her down and finds her living with her girlfriend (Petrachak) in the forest. She has been forced to live separately from the local community – dominated by a religious order of monks – due to accusations of witchcraft, which is also the reason her son was separated from her. When Dominic encounters the monks, he meets a young novice, Daniel (also Duval), who looks remarkably like himself and the two become fascinated with each other, but the latter is under the watchful eye of a fanatical priest (Apergis) who is convinced that the young man is the reincarnation of Saint Sebastian.

Released mere weeks after Paul Verhoeven’s controversial lesbian nun drama Benedetta, this feels like a companion piece, even if LaBruce doesn’t take the contentiousness quite as far. But there’s plenty to raise eyebrows here, especially as the doppelgangers’ relationship turns sexual. Unfortunately, however, this feels like two movies mixed together. On the one hand, we have the narcissistic Dominic, whose self-obsession becomes reality as he progresses from naked selfies on a Polaroid to full-sex with his double. Then there’s the crazed monk playing out his sado-religious fanaticsm by proxy. Either one could have been a compelling feature film, but smushed together like this makes both plots feel silly and overblown.

Taking a step closer, there is a lot that works, though. Duval’s double performance really works – was I alone in genuinely not seeing the similarity between the boys until Dominic shaved his head? – and the scenes in which the two are face to face are seamlessly acted and edited. The art direction of the monastery is exquisitely gloomy, while the cinematography in the forest is undeniably beautiful.

LaBruce has always seemed most comfortable dealing with the very dark humour. Saint-Narcisse takes itself incredibly seriously, but there are times when it feels like what we’ve been presented is the set-up for a joke that the director is deliberately restraining himself from telling. LaBruce’s oeuvre is B-movie pornographic pastiche, which this decidedly is not. And though he has now decidedly mastered his craft, what he hasn’t mastered so well is the art of storytelling. And did it have to be Saint Sebastian at the centre of the film? Movies about the saint adopted by homoerotica – much to the chagrin of Catholics worldwide – are numerous already; did we really need another?

UK Release: 22nd April 2022 in cinemas and 2nd May on VOD, released by Peccadillo Pictures


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