In the opening scene of Saint-Narcisse, a handsome young man is in a laundromat with a beautiful woman. They appear to be strangers, but one thing leads to another, and soon they are having wild sex on the folding table. A crowd gathers outside for the free live sex show. This doesn’t affect the couple in any way until the man catches a glimpse of a face in the crowd… and it seems to be himself looking on, which both delights him and shakes him. Thus, the film roars onto the screen and gives the viewer a taste of the experience.
The man in the launderette is Dominic (Félix-Antoine Duval), and he loves many things in life, chief among them being himself. He’s so obsessed with his looks that he takes constant polaroid snaps to look at and can’t let a mirror go by without looking. The film is set in the 1970s, so he doesn’t have a mobile phone selfie option. When his grandmother passes away, he learns dark family secrets about his mother, Beatriz (Tania Kontoyanni). He’d been told she was dead, but in fact, she was found out as a Lesbian and kept out of his life. Dominic sets out on his motorcycle to find her, and the trip changes his life forever.
He finds his mother and her lover in a remote cabin, and he hears her story for the first time. He also becomes intrigued by a monastic order living in the area. When he spies on them, he once again sees himself, in the person of his long-lost identical twin brother Daniel (also played by Félix-Antoine Duval). At the monastery, Father Andrew (Andreas Apergis) keeps Daniel more or less for a bondage sex pet. Andrew’s sex obsession is with Saint Sebastian, who is said to have been tied to a tree and shot with arrows. The priest recreates the scene vividly with his own personal St. Andrew’s cross in his office.
“…he once again sees himself, in the person of his long-lost identical twin brother Daniel…”
One gets the feeling this particular order of Monks is more interesting than is typical. The older priest is inflexible in his control of the young Monks, Daniel in particular. Here’s where the film takes an even more aggressive leap beyond what is usually thought of in dramatic storytelling. Dominic begins a sexual relationship with his twin, and many different permutations of transgressive interactions are kicked off. Incest in several directions, extreme bondage, and blasphemous usage of religious symbolism all spin around with gleeful, unselfconscious abandon.
Director-writer Bruce LaBruce has long been famous as the master of Canadian “queercore” cinema, and in Saint-Narcisse he has achieved his magnum opus. The film is artfully designed as an homage to vintage gay porn but with far higher production qualities. The title is a clever double entendre that refers to the area of Quebec where it is set, as well as to Narcissus, the Greek god of self-love.
LaBruce shatters boundaries with impunity, but this never feels in-your-face aggressive. Also, anyone who has paid attention is aware that kink exists in the world and that when it comes to sex, normal is what people are until you get to know them. LaBruce dresses up the kink in priestly robes and biker leather and raw skin and sets it out on a runway walk in open daylight. Still, Saint-Narcisse does hold together as a cinematic experience on the strength of Duval’s performance. His earnest approach to the character makes it all believable. We even get a kind of sweetness and satisfaction from the genuine affection shared by Dominic’s incredibly unconventional family.
"…artfully designed as an homage to vintage gay porn..."