Bruce LaBruce’s latest spirited provocation marks the cult director’s second literalization of the sexual revolution. Like 2004’s The Raspberry Reich, a satire of what LaBruce has called “terrorist chic,” The Misandrists soaks audiences in the doings (and I do mean doings) of a radical cell of sexual dissenters. In this case, the Female Liberation Army is a squad of young lesbians outfitted in schoolgirl uniforms and trained, at a German home for wayward girls, to love each other, to topple the patriarchy, to star in ethical pornography to fund the cause, and to never ever let a man into their enclave. Of course, as tends to happen in stories of feminist utopias, one naive young woman — Isolde, played by Kita Updike — discovers a man in need and brings him in, violating every tenet of her society. But this is no Wonder Woman. That dude will get laid, sure, but he’ll also eventually be on the receiving end of one of LaBruce’s signature jolts: explicit, close-up surgical footage.
As always, LaBruce splices genres, spiking his parody with soft- and hardcore interludes, insert shots of actual insertion. The tone is deliberately, fascinatingly unmoored, listing from earnest melodrama (what will Isolde do with that man in the basement!) to jubilant exploitation (alone together, the young women pillow fight) to conspiracy thriller (the headmistress is definitely up to something) to goofy horror (that surgery!) to mock propaganda (an orgy is interrupted for an urgent communique) to dead-serious survey of the terrors that might actually turn these young women toward organized misandry. The performances, as per LaBruce’s other films, alternate between commandingly comic and touchingly stiff; the explicit or nude scenes play like collaborative celebrations of the cast rather than true exploitation.
LaBruce has set this femme reverie in 1999, in the country of “Ger(wo)many,” and the rhetoric is second-wave taken to a separatist extreme. The school’s Big Mother (Susanne Sachsse, of The Raspberry Reich) strives, in full wimpled habit, to keep the world from discovering them and to find a way to keep the FLA solvent; her teachers, meanwhile, lecture about which animal species have evolved to where the female fertilizes its own egg. (Eggs figure into the orgy showstopper, including one impressive disgorgement recalling In the Realm of the Senses.)
The period setting creates some welcome, curious suspense: Viewers will note that at least one of Big Mother’s charges is a trans woman, and that the women around her seem to think nothing of it. The question this raises, as Big Mother leads her revolutionaries in offering prayerful thanks to the Goddess for letting them each be born a woman: Is this lesbian enclave ahead of the curve, or have Big Mother and Co. simply not noticed? Rest assured, LaBruce has thought all this through and has answers that do more than provoke. As in many of his films, The Misandrists finds the oppressed themselves oppressing others, a warning among all the dizzy outrageousness.