“PIERROT LUNAIRE”—- An Experimental Film from Bruce LaBruce

pierrot poster

Pierrot Lunaire

Having No Clue

Amos Lassen

A new film from Bruce LaBruce is always interesting and this time it is totally different than anything I have previously seen from him. Quite simply, the plot goes something like this— we meet a young girl that often dresses as a boy. She seduces a young girl who has no idea that her lover is female. When she takes her home to meet her parents, the girl’s father is a bit skeptical and shows the truth which does not change his daughter’s feelings but she is forbidden to see him again. Now the boy is furious and he finds a way to prove his masculinity to the girl’s father.

The film is based on a set of poems by Albert Giraud that was set to music by Arnold Schonberg. Filmed in black and white, there is no dialogue but intertitles explain the plot. This is interesting in that what we read are the words to Giraud’s poems.

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LaBruce has been making LGBT movies for years and he always deals with sexuality in a frank and forthright way. I have always found his movies to be both controversial and filled with talent even as these do ideas have nothing to do with each other. In the case of this film we see beautiful cinematography and gorgeous staging.

 Susanne Sachsse is Pierrot, a trans man in love with a woman named Columbine (Maria Ivanenko). When Columbine’s father embarrasses Pierrot and shows that he does not have male sex organs, Pierrot becomes so depressed that he sees what he has to do to become a man. This is quite a dark and erotic film. The setting is Berlin in 1978 and Pierrot, the character takes us on a tour of underground gay Berlin as she searches for the right penis with which to win Columbine back. He faces frustration as packed g-strings are pushed into his face and he spirals downward into even more depression and depravity as he begins to think about murder.

I found the film to come across as something like a cabaret act with Pierrot narrating what we see but silently. I also found the film to be a study in contrasts and contradictions—at times it is very smart and witty and at other times we might see it as smutty and profane. Yet it is always interesting and I am reminded of a recent chat I had with LaBruce in which I remarked to him that the reason that people like his films is because he dares to go where others will not. LaBruce is known for his emphasis on sexuality and nudity and he does not disappoint here. We have a scene of masturbation that is very real and this plays opposite some very interesting symbolism.

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 Quite obviously, this is not a film for everyone but those who see it (or any of the LaBruce films) will see a well-constructed and thought out piece of work. When I spoke with LaBruce we also talked about his use of camp and that is also one of the elements of this film especially since camp has changed and become part of our daily lives.

There is strong graphic content here but there is also comedy in the way that the serious issue of transsexuality is dealt with. Having seem almost all of LaBruce’s films, I knew in advance that this film would be odd and sexually explicit. As another critic so astutely summed it up, what we have here is “a trans-gendered, contemporary re-imaging of Arnold Schönberg’s early 20th century cabaret show ‘Pierrot Lunaire’ (in which the Austrian composer set music to 21 of the poems by Albert Giraud from the collection of the same name”. The idea of a cabaret is still here and it is brought into the story of a woman in somewhat contemporary Toronto. She regularly dresses as male and goes by the name of Pierrot. The film moves back and forth between the comedia dell’arte of the cabaret show and contemporary times. To me, it seems, that the film is really more about the art of performance than anything else. The stereotypes of man and woman are broken down. When Pierrot goes into a male strip club, for example, the fetish of the male body comes into play and this is done so that we can understand the ambiguity of gender and its constructs. What are considered body normative turn out to be little more than “performative”.

I am a huge fan of LaBruce but I must say he is one the directors that is very difficult to review. I am never quite sure where he is going and if he ever gets there even when the journey is great fun.

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