Bitch: A Feminist Response to Pop Culture - - SCREEN REVIEWS - Di­rec­tor: Bruce Labruce { rasp­berry & Cream }

“Blessed be the god­dess of all worlds, that has not made me a man,” in­tone the solemn women, sit­ting down to din­ner. “Glory be to the mother, and to the daugh­ter, and to the holy cunt.” Abound­ing with over-the-top di­a­logue like this, The Misandrists mainly ex­ists to lam­poon rad­i­cal fem­i­nism—and cel­e­brate it at the same time. It’s an am­bi­tious and baf­fling con­ceit, and while Bruce Labruce doesn’t have enough of a co­her­ent the­sis to bring it to­gether, his at­tempt is strangely fas­ci­nat­ing.

Set in Ger­many in 1999, The Misandrists delves into the world of the Fe­male Lib­er­a­tion Army (FLA), a ter­ror­ist rad-fem cell ded­i­cated to the ex­ter­mi­na­tion of men and the dawn­ing of a new all-fe­male world. When Volker (Til Schindler), a wounded male rad­i­cal flee­ing the po­lice, stum­bles across the FLA’S ru­ral “school” for young girls, Isolde (Kita Updike) hides him in the base­ment. Even­tu­ally, the two be­come lovers while Isolde nurses Volker back to health. But as ten­sion grows among the other girls, Isolde’s se­crets—and those of her sis­ters—are re­vealed.

Isolde is a trans­gen­der woman in a car­toon­ishly gy­no­cen­tric FLA: Each mem­ber cups their hands while pray­ing to em­u­late a vagina; the ini­ti­ates are taught about hu­man parthe-

no­gen­e­sis as a method of elim­i­nat­ing the need for sex­ual re­pro­duc­tion; and Big Mother in­sists her girls are “free to love whomever [they] want, as long as she has a vagina.” Isolde’s pres­ence sub­verts the FLA’S con­vic­tions, and acts as Labruce’s mouth­piece to dis­miss pre­vail­ing no­tions that trans women are male in any sense or should be un­wel­come in women-only spa­ces.

But if this is the crux of Labruce’s valu­able rad-fem cri­tique, it’s also where his ideas floun­der. For one thing, the FLA is a strange con­glom­er­a­tion of sec­ond- and third-wave fem­i­nist ide­olo­gies, con­vinced the phal­lus is an in­stru­ment of pa­tri­archy while try­ing to re­claim pornog­ra­phy for the rev­o­lu­tion. Big Mother and her col­lab­o­ra­tors are at once re­gres­sive and pro­gres­sive, lu­di­crous and ra­tio­nal. Af­ter a while, it’s dif­fi­cult to as­cer­tain who Labruce in­tends to be cheered or booed, and why. What is the viewer to make of a rad­i­cal move­ment that (ten­ta­tively) wel­comes a non-op trans woman, but forces Volker to have gen­der re­as­sign­ment surgery with­out anes­thetic? (Ever one to push but­tons, Labruce screens graphic vagino­plasty footage while Volker screams in agony.) How much of The Misandrists is satire, and how much is earnest? It’s un­clear, both to the viewer and seem­ingly to Labruce him­self.

That mud­dled qual­ity isn’t The Misandrists’ only flaw: Most of the Ger­man cast’s English de­liv­ery is slug­gish and unan­i­mated, mak­ing in­ter­ac­tions flat and off­putting. But the film’s prob­lems also con­trib­ute to its campy charm, and Updike’s com­plex per­for­mance as a Black trans ac­tor play­ing a Black trans role is no­table and timely. The Misandrists is a wild and bizarre film: con­fus­ing, ab­surd, and—for bet­ter or worse—ut­terly unique. RAT­ING:

Be­low: Still from The Misandrists.

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