Saint Maud was one of the very first 2021 releases to sneak onto my Best of the Year list and Benedetta was one of the last, which means that my movie year was bookended by erotic horror stories about religious zealots. Let it be known that queercore provocateur Bruce LaBruce also entered the chat in that particular forum last year with his latest low-budget button pusher, Saint-Narcisse. Of the three erotic religious nightmares I saw last year, Saint–Narcisse was the least substantial, but it was also the gayest and the most pornographic, which has gotta count for something. Saint Maud & Benedetta were also pretty horned-up & gay in their own respects, but they were outdone in both metrics by LaBruce, whose fearlessness in soaring over the top apparently surpasses even Verhoeven’s.
Saint–Narcisse is a taboo melodrama about a narcissist who falls into lust with his long-estranged twin. The narcissist has transformed himself into his own fetish object, only experiencing erotic euphoria when taking dirty Polaroids of himself in isolation . . . until he meets his twin. The twin is a cloistered monk whose own sex life is traumatically limited to the abuses of the higher-ups in his monastery, who’ve raised him since birth. The two brothers are psychically linked through erotic nightmare visions of each other; they’re also linked to their witchy, reclusive mother, who’s been estranged from them since birth. The narrative drive of the film is in liberating the diasporic family from their various sexual prisons, uniting them in a shamelessly incestuous commune isolated from the judgmental eyes of the outside world. As always, its overall purpose is driven by LaBruce amusing himself by discomforting the audience with a series of tongue-in-cheek erotic pranks. It’s not great, but it is great fun.
There’s a flat, soap opera approach to this incestuous familial drama that’s in direct conflict with the atmospheric tension that usually carries religious inner-conflict movies of its kind. In LaBruce’s The Misandrists, that emotionless, detached acting style was hilariously paired with overwritten political rants that kept the mood lively, if not outright volatile. Here, the flat dialogue exchanges are spaced out with pensive motorcycle rides & wet dream sequences, calling for a level of dramatic & atmospheric tension that the movie never delivers. Still, LaBruce rewards your patience with plenty of narrative pranks at the expense of good taste, including a backyard cookout cheerily scored by a cover of Sly & The Family Stone’s “Family Affair.” Whether that punchline ending is worth the road trip journey of its set-up is debatable, but it’s undeniable that LaBruce is a brave soul for attempting it in the first place.
We’d be in a much better place if more filmmakers were this shameless in amusing themselves at their audience’s expense, even if the results are often bested by better-funded competitors who work within much more rigid guard rails.