A Heartwarming Movie About Love, Acceptance, and Political Vaginoplasty
Canadian auteur Bruce LaBruce’s latest film, The Misandrists, explores what happens when people stop being nice and start being separatists.
Bruce LaBruce, The Misandrists, 2017. Photo courtesy Cartilage Films.
“I like you, as a comrade.” Ugh, getting rejected in a separatist commune somehow seems like it would be even more dispiriting than in normie society. The year is 1999 and we’re “somewhere in Ger(wo)many” watching two young lasses named Isolde and Hilde frolic amongst the long grasses in adorable cloaks and white knee socks. It’s all very picturesque and a bit Manic Pixie, but then you notice their schoolgirl uniform skirts are quite short. Cut to a young, strapping man hobbling through the nearby woods—he’s a little too cute and charmingly disheveled to be in mortal crisis, and his grunts of effort might inspire an “oh…wow,” rather than “oh, the poor dear” in an audience. Such off-kilter stylistic tics are like a wink from director Bruce LaBruce, and while you’re going to need a soft spot for women somewhere in your heart to enjoy his latest effort The Misandrists, it would also probably help prepare you to know that he made the lauded Nazi skinhead fetish flick No Skin Off My Ass (1991) and what’s probably the best (only?) parody yet attempted of the left wing Baader-Meinhof gang for The Raspberry Reich (2004).
It’s hard to think of any other filmmaker who sashays straight into the maw of Germany’s violent ideological past with such panache, sails through the material with his cast cracking jokes all the way, and emerges with such stellar movies. On top of that, these aforementioned titles are also porn films; LaBruce is an obscenely competent multitasker! Filled with various homages to films such as Robert Aldrich’s 1967 The Dirty Dozen and Nagisa Oshima’s 1976 In the Realm of the Senses, The Misandrists plops us into the first salvo of conflict for a group of lesbian feminist separatists: a man in their midst!
The heart of this picture is the compassionate Isolde, who lugs the fugitive fellow, named Volker, to the cellar of their little house in the German countryside for wayward girls and keeps him stashed there for most of the film as her dirty secret, in more ways than one. Big Mother Gertrude, played by the delightful Susanne Sachsse, plucked her and a range of other girls from the streets and recruited them for her Female Liberation Army, with the eventual goal of being able to sustain themselves through revolutionary pornography. They are tended to by four Sisters—one of whom calls Isolde a “separatist among separatists,” so chic—and reeducated as radicals. Schooled in the concept of parthenogenesis, or how organisms can reproduce sans men, by Sister Kembra, they recite a mantra at their meals (“Blessed be the goddess of all worlds that has not made me a man”) that’s an inversion of an Orthodox Jewish prayer (“Blessed be the God of all worlds that has not made me a woman”) and take each other to bed in their spare time. Perhaps the nicest shoutout in the whole film to women’s history is the placement of Emma Goldman’s mug shot, taken when she was absurdly arrested after a man assassinated President McKinley in 1901, behind Gertrude and her lover Sister Dagmar’s bed.
In LaBruce’s films, a scene of narrative foreshadowing or political betrayal is usually also an erotic tease, which is brilliant, because no matter what happens in the plot most interactions become sexually loaded, and wickedly funny. Combine this sensibility with leftwing political rhetoric and you get come-ons like, “I know how we can posit ourselves authentically…as subjects,” or pouty interjections such as “I thought you liked the idea of living in a separatist stronghold!” Romantic clichés are knifed straight through: Gertrude implores the girls to remember that, “the closest way to a man’s heart is through his chest!” Inspirational. I won’t tell you how the film ends, just know that you can’t get there if you refuse to countenance the good allyship potential in castration. Men, show your support for women, and get rid of yourselves today!
The Misandrists opens at the Village East Cinema in New York on May 25 and the Landmark Nuart Theatre in Los Angeles on June 1.