Pierrot Lunaire


Reviewed by: Andrew Robertson

Pierrot Lunaire
"It has been described in places as "very funny" but it's closer to laughable."

Pierrot Lunaire is for anyone who can't get enough shouty German burlesque operatic genital essentialism with techno interludes. Based on Schoenberg's composition for a series of poems by Albert Giraud, or perhaps more specifically upon Bruce LaBruce's stage version of same, this is painful to watch, difficult to endure, and at 57 minutes both mercifully short and far, far too long.

If you want to watch a black and white film that contains lines like "soon I will prove to your fat capitalist pig father that I am a real man" then have at. If you want to watch a film where in the best traditions of silent cinema the score bears only a transitory allegiance to the scenes depicted and the card we see after our protagonist has their trousers pulled down reads "WikiLeaked!" then this is the film for you. If you can find a screening that's not constrained by the BBFC's hard guideline against erect male genitalia then watch, but be prepared - this is a film that reduces the dilemma of one trans man to a quest for a penis, a hero's journey that doesn't meet many of the stations of the Campbellian checklist but does contain the line "Now to show my manhood to Columbine and the capitalist swine she calls a father".

Copy picture

As Oscar Wilde might have observed, there are few problems to which the solution is whipping one's dick out. Perhaps even less so when said pudendal appendage is borrowed by knife from a taxi-driver of differing ethnicity (blatantly stereotyped in at least one of his instances by turban and beaded seat cushion).

Pierrot is depicted in part by Susanne Sachsse, whose voice recites Giraud's poetic cycle over the top of, well, whatever this film is.

In ostensible black and white, save for green flashes of inspiration, yellow snow, red pixelated splatters of kroovy, the occasional piece of stained glass, it's interspersed with section headings and title cards and bursts of techno and cuts to a staged version of proceedings and, well, it opens with vodka shots in an automobile and it is a car crash. There are a couple of moments where it seems there's something interesting going on, some neat bits of negative superimposed at an angle to their originals, but they're early, and they're wasted. At one point Pierrot suggests he is "A woman playing a man playing a woman playing a man" but this is not Victor/Victoria and the politics of gender identity have moved on a bit since then.

There's a dramaturgist credited, but the story references Pinocchio itself and makes the focus of being a "real boy" entirely trouser-based. There is an alternate self for Pierrot, a bearded muscular figure glimpsed in mirrors in the film and the shadows on the stage. Cast twice (as with much of the rest of the film), it's arguably a component of, let's call it an exploration of the liminality of identity and the perception of the self. Yet that characterisation of it speaks to a subtlety and even arguably a vocubulary that the film/opera/happening is not pursuing, indeed if its electro sensibility was more Nintendo than Death Disco it could be described as a penile fetch quest.

There are moments that are rich in symbolism - protagonist Pierrot peeling a bowlful of apples, for example, pondering how he can convince his parmour's father that he is man enough to possess her. That's a rich confluence of signifiers that sit until it's clear that, even eventually, nothing will come of them. There are moments, too, that are bereft of symbolism - penises real and synthetic abound, breasts bound and unbound, blood and semen are sprayed with abandon.

It has been described in places as "very funny" but it's closer to laughable. It's easy to forgive what one is left to assume is a typographical error when Columbine's father wonders if Pierrot is "fish or foul", but perhaps it is deliberate, a homophonous play on words that falls flat because its lost in a sea of discord. Perhaps somewhere in its borrowing from Expressionism and burlesque (and sub-genre boylesque) and Queer cinema and Levi's adverts from the Nineties it is trying for Dadaist art-prank, but if it is it is on the audience. Bruce LaBruce may have had only the best of intentions, but if he did they've been cocked up.

Reviewed on: 20 Jun 2014
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A transgender cabaret performer falls tragically in love with a young woman.

Director: Bruce La Bruce

Writer: Albert Giraud, Otto Erich Hartleben, Bruce La Bruce

Starring: Susanne Sachße, Paulina Bachmann, Luizo Vega, Maria Ivanenko, Mehdi Berkouki, Boris Lisowski, Krishna Kumar Krishnan, Bruce La Bruce, Amit Elan, Premil Petrovic, Krassen Krastev, Adrian Pavlov, Emmanuelle Bernard, Thony Weiss, Miguel Pérez Iñesta

Year: 2014

Runtime: 51 minutes

Country: Germany, Canada


EIFF 2014
Karlovy 2014

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