27 July 2009

The Decade List: The Raspberry Reich (2004)

The Raspberry Reich - dir. Bruce LaBruce

In the years following the pinnacle of New Queer Cinema, the description "aggressively queer" doesn't come up very often. While both Todd Haynes and Gregg Araki graduated to "serious" fare (Far from Heaven and Mysterious Skin, respectively), Canadian artist/photographer/filmmaker Bruce LaBruce (Hustler White, Super 8½ and No Skin Off My Ass, which was reportedly Kurt Cobain's favorite film before he died) held onto the tradition, best exemplified in The Raspberry Reich, a hilarious indictment of sexual politics, the far left and "terrorist chic." Certainly in the same vain as Godard's La chinoise or Fassbinder's The Third Generation, LaBruce presents a hapless group of urban guerrillas, headed by the insolent Gudrun (Susanne Sachsse), attempting to carry on the torch of the Red Army Faction.

Gudrun, named after one of the founders of the Baader-Meinhof Gang, concocts a scheme to kidnap Patrick (A. Stich), the son of one of Germany's key industrialists. At the same time, she instills something of a martial law on her gang of insurgents, forcing them to "liberate" themselves from their own "heterosexual repression," insisting "No revolution without sexual revolution. No sexual revolution without homosexual revolution." She, being the only female in the group, does not ask the same of herself but contends that all of the men, including her boyfriend Holger (Daniel Bätscher), join her homosexual intifada.

The Raspberry Reich is, for those familiar, totally LaBruce: hysterical, brash, fetishistic, porn-y, reflexive and even unexpectedly poignant. In recognizing LaBruce's signature brand of criticism and sympathy, one senses his empathy toward Gudrun's cause which intends to combat capitalism and the heteronormative modes of thought that prevail within it. And yet she's still portrayed as a dictator, an unshakeable creature who speaks in propagandistic slogans ("The revolution is my boyfriend!"), cites direct passages from Raoul Vaneigem's The Revolution of Everyday Life as if they were her own and condemns everything from masturbation, corn flakes and Madonna as being counter-revolutionary. And still, she's not completely oblivious to her own contradictions. At one point, she tells Holger, after instructing him to have sex with fellow comrade Che (Daniel Fettig), that if he doesn't follow her orders she won't have sex with him later that night.

LaBruce's main concern relates to the conflict between political, sexual and personal idealism and the governing truths regarding them. Styled like a propaganda film, with various slogans and texts flashing across the screen, The Raspberry Reich brilliantly satirizes one of commanding fears of the Christian right: that "sexual deviants" can recruit others to their lifestyle. Gudrun's experiment, which is what it ultimately amounts to, fails with each of her recruits. When one of the members (Anton Z. Risan) runs off with Patrick, who becomes the gang's Patty Hearst, to take up robbing banks à la Bonnie and Clyde, they violate Gudrun's firm stance against bourgeois monogamy ("Marriage is licensed prostitution," she tells Holger. "I don't want you to be my pimp!").

To call The Raspberry Reich mere pornography would be a rather facile deduction (to be fair though, German production company Cazzo did release a version of the film called The Revolution Is My Boyfriend with longer, less restricted sex scenes). Certainly, most of the sex in the film is unsimulated and most of the actors, other than the amazing Susanne Sachsse, are porn stars, but The Raspberry Reich is more than just the thinking person's blue movie. In keeping with the tone of the rest of the film, the sex exists in contradiction to itself. Sometimes it's a parody (guns often go beyond being just phallic symbols), while, other times, LaBruce obstructs the fucking with text and strobe light editing. It's sexual exploitation against the exploitation of innocent people, and despite the film's numerous incongruities, it does adhere to Gudrun's notion of making revolutionary love, not imperialistic war.

The use of actual sex may ghettoize The Raspberry Reich from a larger audience more than your average gay film (I don't use the term "queer film" because that really doesn't apply much these days; Vicky Cristina Barcelona is queerer than Brokeback Mountain). In my eyes, that's a shame, but really, a film as radical as The Raspberry Reich, like Dušan Makavejev's WR: Mysteries of the Organism from which LaBruce drew considerable inspiration, would never have mass appeal. LaBruce followed The Raspberry Reich in 2008 with the fantastic existential zombie film Otto; or Up with Dead People in 2008, continuing his streak as one of the most exciting voices in aggressively queer cinema.

With: Susanne Sachsse, Daniel Bätscher, A. Stich, Anton Z. Risan, Dean Stathis, Daniel Fettig, Gerrit, Joeffrey, Ulrike S., Stephan Dilschneider
Screenplay: Bruce LaBruce
Cinematography: James Carman, Kristian Petersen
Country of Origin: Germany/Canada
US Distributor: Strand Releasing

Premiere: 17 January 2004 (Sundance Film Festival)


Chuck Williamson said...

Damn it, Netflix! Why don't you carry this film?

I'm totally going to make every effort to see this. It sounds too anarchic and deliciously subversive to miss.

Thanks for the recommendation.

Joe said...

Damn them, indeed! I guess they're still a bit prudish, though nothing compared to the two big chain video stores around the country.

For some reason though, LaBruce's Otto; or Up with Dead People is available streaming on Netflix.

Jordany said...

I quoted from her non-stop after first watching this. Especially from the scene where they rob the family owned grocery store and run away.

"Private property cannot be stolen just liberated!"

"We don't have time right now to argue about petty ideological distinctions!"

And my favorite: "What did I teach you?"
" Meat is an incredibly wasteful way of producing food."
"Thats right! Now go! shne shne!"

Brillant review, as usual! :) I hope he makes another film soon.

Joe said...

I thought about making a lit of all of her amazing quotables, but I was afraid that'd spoil the fun. I have a T-shirt I got from Bruce LaBruce's site that says, "Put Your Marxism Where Your Mouth Is." Unfortunately, out of context, it really does sound like a call-to-action and not a double entendre, so I don't wear it very often.