REBEL YELL

The Punk-Rock Porn Movie That Lays Waste to the Patriarchy

Acclaimed queercore filmmaker Bruce LaBruce’s ‘The Misandrists’ centers on the men-overthrowing Female Liberation Army. And it’s like nothing you’ve ever seen before.

J. Jackie Baier/Cartilage Films

“Pornography is an act of insurrection against the dominant order,” states Big Mother (Susanne Sachsse), the matriarch of an all-female boarding school, in The Misandrists, and those familiar with the work of writer/director Bruce LaBruce (Otto; or Up with Dead People, Gerontophilia) will immediately recognize it as a sly proclamation of his own philosophy.

For the past thirty years, whether helming short or feature-length productions, or working as a writer and photographer, LaBruce has pushed boundaries with a pure, unadulterated transgressive spirit. An assured filmmaker who rose to prominence as a vanguard of 1990s queercore cinema, he’s akin to a more extreme John Waters, blending philosophy and comedy with explicit sexual material in order to poke, prod and reproach any and all status quos.

Having spent much of his career making films about—and with—gay male actors, LaBruce turns his strict attention to the fairer sex with his latest, although it’s not fairness that his female protagonists are after, but rebellion and domination. Playing like the bonkers bastard child of The Beguiled and Cecil B. Demented, The Misandrists (debuting in New York on May 25, and L.A. on June 1) situates itself in Ger(wo)many circa 1999, at a remote institution of revolutionary learning run by Big Mother, the charismatic leader of the Female Liberation Army (FLA), who sports long bleached-white locks and two crutches to help her get around. At this forested place of higher learning, Big Mother tends to a group of girls committed to the cause of overthrowing the hegemonic capitalist patriarchy and establishing a system in which women don’t simply stand shoulder-to-shoulder with their male compatriots, but cast them aside in order to establish an estrogen-infused new world order.

This entails both assuming control of societal machinery, as well as kicking bros out of the bedroom—especially for any hetero coupling. The Misandrists’ first scenes feature two sets of female lovers, the second of which is forced to watch gay male porn in order to learn how to make the FLA’s own forthcoming X-rated opus, which Big Mother believes will help upend current misogynistic power structures. Theirs is a movement founded on demolishing long-held norms, and it’s echoed by LaBruce’s film itself, which gleefully focuses its gaze on the aforementioned man-on-man action—full of graphic sights most hetero viewers have probably never seen before (yours truly included)—as a means of brazenly embracing the sort of content the mainstream considers unacceptable.

When it comes to jarring its viewers, however, The Misandrists is just getting started. While frolicking out in the woods, Isolde (Kita Updike) and Hilde (Olivia Kundisch) meet a wounded man named Volker (Til Schindler) who’s wanted by the authorities for vandalizing the nearby stock exchange. Though it goes against the FLA’s man-hating principles, Isolde takes pity on this fellow revolutionary and hides him in the school’s basement so she can care for him. At the same time, classmate lovers Ute (Victoire Laly) and Editha (Lo-Fi Cherry), and Ursula (Serenity Rosa) and Antje (Sam Dye), bicker about romantic jealousies when not listening to Big Mother’s sermons around the dinner table and classroom lectures about “HERstory.” Big Mother, on the other hand, is fixated on setting into motion plans to film her masterpiece of activist eroticism, even as revelations come out about the true nature of Isolde and Editha, both of whom are hiding surprising things from their comrades—and who must find a way to be truly themselves, as free women, in order to help the FLA achieve its ultimate goals.

Such madness is clearly designed to push buttons, and The Misandrists does that with in-your-face aplomb. Comfortable quoting Arthur Schopenhauer (prostitutes are “sacrifices on the altar of monogamy”) and reveling in up-close-and-personal porn, the film refuses to set conventional boundaries for itself, which also extends to its protagonists’ rejection of conventional conceptions of equality. As Big Mother makes clear, the FLA has no interest in attaining greater rights within a fundamentally unfair culture (presumably à la some modern feminists). Instead, their aim is the outright subjugation of all males, whose stench they can barely tolerate, whose skin they don’t want to touch (for fear of “contamination”), and who, as evidenced by Volker’s compulsion to pee on trees during his flight from justice, are no more civilized than dogs.

With tongue planted firmly in cheek (among other places—zing!), The Misandrists soon tackles issues of gender identity and carnal exploitation and empowerment through a series of scenes in which characters mostly chat—or let their hands and mouths do the talking for them. As with a sterling slow-motion sequence of the schoolgirls having a pillow fight that he constructs out of close-ups of joyous faces amidst flying feathers, LaBruce avoids dramatizing such sexualized action with a hetero male gaze; the tone he strikes is one of women interested in pleasing themselves and each other, to the exclusion of everyone else. There’s no sense of him trying to titillate potential male viewers—which is just as well, since a late “realignment” scene involving Volker boasts real sexual reassignment surgery footage that’s apt to have some dudes outright cringing in horror.

No matter that it’s receiving a wider release than many of LaBruce’s other films, The Misandrists is an underground artistic effort, wholly consumed with promoting, and embodying, extremist minority viewpoints. Consequently, there’s amusement to be derived from the fact that the writer/director tackles such confrontational ideas via traditional formal means. Be it James Carman’s expressive cinematography (marked by highly charged compositions of camaraderie, intimacy, seduction and domination), Judy Landkammer’s transitional fade-heavy editorial scheme, or a score comprised of classical piano, LaBruce presents his purposely transgressive material with stylish elegance, and in turn, generates cheeky dissonance that upends expectations, not to mention any sense of comfort.

As far as paradigm-challenging projects go, The Misandrists is a routinely entertaining rebuke to both conservative and liberal attitudes, culminating with a presentation, in a gender-segregated theater, of the FLA’s finished endeavor “Pornutopia: World Without Men,” which doesn’t hold back on birth-related erotic imagery. It won’t be for everyone (which is the entire point, of course). But in its gleeful distaste for conformity, it’s a paragon of modern punk-rock moviemaking.