Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Pierrot Lunaire (2014): A Woman Playing A Man Playing A Woman Playing A Man

Pierrot Lunaire (2014)
dir: Bruce LaBruce

SIFF 2014 Film #11
(Best of Festival)

Pierrot Lunaire is the Bruce LaBruce that you’ve come to know, expect, and love. But, it’s not mere political statement with hardcore sexuality. Pierrot Lunaire is a full frontal assault on your sensabilities that doesn’t ever let you get comfortable as you’re watching for its full 51 minute run time.

Did I just say 51 minutes? Yes I did. Being under an hour, Pierrot Lunaire barely counts as a film in length, but starts addressing so many different ideas in those 51 minutes that you can’t call it anything but. By the time, Pierre Lunaire is over, the audience will be overstimulated and exhausted.

Pierrot Lunaire is originally a series of 50 French poems by Albert Giraud published in 1884. These poems were translated into the German by Erich Hartleben. In 1912, Arnold Shoenberg created Three Times Seven Poems from Albert Giraud’s “Pierrot Lunaire”, an atonal musical “melodrama” that used speech-singing and a minimal chamber-esque group of musicians. And, finally, Bruce LaBruce decided to completely subvert that whole work in this short-ish film, which uses the Shoenberg work as his foundation, in as much as a subversive work can be further subverted.

Bruce LaBruce reimagined the main character, Pierrot, as a transsexual, a woman pretending to be a man. I say pretending because it's unclear if Pierrot identifies as a woman but dresses as a man because lesbians were generally not accepted, or if Pierrot truly identifies as a man.  Pierrot has a female lover, Columbine, who believes that Pierrot is a man. When Pierrot meets Columbine’s patrician father, the father figures out that Pierrot is a girl posing as a man, and prevents them from seeing each other. As a result, Pierrot embarks on a journey to covet and gain a real live penis for himself.

LaBruce tells the story in a manner similar to the intent of the original stagings of the play. The film is divided into the 21 different poems, each with a title. Each section of 7 poems are divided by modern old school club techno that sounds straight out of a German leather bar. In addition, LaBruce tells the story of Pierrot in two different stagings that he edits together: a cabaret-esque live stage staging, and a traditionally cinematic staging. LaBruce uses a variety of silent film techniques (a la Guy Madden) to pull all of the sections into a semi-cohesive whole, and even has title cards detailing the action on screen, while the poems undercut the action of the film because they have little to do with the onscreen action…or maybe they have everything to do with the action. I'm not entirely sure.

To say that I fully understand Pierrot Lunaire after a single screening would be to lie. This is a film that assaults you on multiple fronts. The music is old-school atonal classical with multi-chromatic poems being read/sang in a variety of tones that ranges from whispering to shrieking. The aural sensibilities never get adjusted from the deep bass of the techno that opens to the atonal apocalypse of the main music. Then trying to process the music and the poems with the multi-level on-screen action, plus having silent-film title cards. It’s a crime on your brain.

For me, Pierrot Lunaire will probably stand up on rewatches. Or, it may possibly fall apart under its own pretension. I don’t know. I know that I will enjoy figuring out what it means. It’s a puzzle box of an arthouse film. I’m not sure if LaBruce is saying something vast about gender, or just fucking with us (are we ever sure of that?). Even if this movie is all style with little substance, it will still be fun as hell to watch and rewatch.

Best of Festival.

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