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Review: Saint-Narcisse

September 25, 2021

By John Corrado

★★½ (out of 4)

The latest provocation by Canadian filmmaker Bruce LaBruce, who is known for exploring various taboos and sexual fetishes across his body of work, Saint-Narcisse is a film that deals in themes of self-infatuation, repression, scrupulosity and, well, incest.

Set in Quebec in 1972 (FLQ graffiti is seen on a brick wall at one point), LaBruce’s film follows Dominic (Félix-Antoine Duval), a young man who is quite literally in love with himself. Dominic was raised by his grandmother (Angèle Coutu) and grew up being made to believe that his mother died when he was a baby.

But when he discovers through a series of hidden letters that his mother, Beatrice (Tania Kontoyanni), is actually still alive and living in the village of Saint-Narcisse, he sets off on his motorcycle to meet her for the first time. Dominic finds his mother living as a hippie in a secluded cabin in the middle of the woods with a young woman named Irene (Alexandra Petrachuk), with the locals believing that she is a witch and that Irene never ages.

Dominic also discovers that he has a twin named Daniel (also played by Duval), a perfect doppelgänger of himself who happens to be a young monk living at a nearby monastery. Daniel is kept as the play thing of the domineering Father Andrew (Andreas Apergis), who believes him to be the reincarnation of Saint Sebastian. Dominic and Daniel start a sexual relationship together, prompted by Dominic’s quite literal fetishization of his own image. From here, the film becomes an incestuous, autoerotic love story that is punctuated by generous flashes of male nudity.

As you can tell, there is a lot going on in Saint-Narcisse. LaBruce’s film is intended as a reimagining of the Greek myth of Narcissus that pokes fun at 1970s subcultures, while also drawing obvious parallels to millennial self-absorption. Dominic has a penchant for taking polaroid photos of himself (“who does that?” Irene questions after finding one), a not so subtle dig at modern selfie culture. This commentary on self-obsession could have gone slightly deeper, but leads to the “twin-cest” (which was apparently LaBruce’s working title for the film) that comes to define the story.

LaBruce has crafted a transgressive and slightly trashy throwback to 1970s exploitation cinema, freely mixing eroticism and religious imagery. The film seems to be intended as a somewhat satirical take on B-movies from the era, with elements of Gothic horror in the scenes at the monastery. With that said, Saint-Narcisse is sometimes a bit too po-faced in its presentation to fully work as satire. The story also gets a bit messy as it goes along and ends up feeling overlong in places, before a conclusion that comes across as a little too tidy.

But Saint-Narcisse features a good duel performance by Duval, who does a fine job of creating two separate characters whose images and personalities start to converge, and the film works well enough as a piece of intentionally provocative entertainment. While mainstream audiences will likely find it all a bit much, fans of LaBruce’s particular proclivities as a filmmaker should find plenty to enjoy here.

Saint-Narcisse is now playing in limited release at Cineplex Cinemas Varsity in Toronto. It’s being distributed in Canada by Northern Banner Releasing.

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