Review: Saint-Narcisse

Written and directed by Bruce La Bruce, co-written by Martin Girard, when a young man who thought his mother was dead discovers that she may still be alive, he goes on a quest to find her. His journey takes him to a remote cabin in the woods where his mother lives in exile with a mysterious young woman. Starring: Félix-Antoine Duval, Tania Kontoyanni, Alexandra Petrachuk, Angèle Coutu, Andreas Apergis, Mimi Côté, Marcelo Arroyo and Jillian Harris.

As soon as this film kicks off, it’s like a love letter to cinema of the 1960s and 70s, evoking the atmosphere of erotic thrillers. Saint-Narcisse begins in a mysterious, sexually charged manner, mixing danger with desire, and all signs point to a memorable experience. It will be memorable, but sadly probably not for the reasons first anticipated. It very quickly unravels and the style both visually and thematically follows the vapid nature of its lead character. It’s a shame as the story had a haunting atmosphere initially which is just left by the wayside. While it does well to tap into the aesthetic of its time period, it’s utterly convincing, but there isn’t a great deal to the directorial style which stands out.

The story develops in such a way that it feels blissfully unaware of its extremely uncomfortable complications and consequences. It uses a romantic tone indiscriminately, even in moments where it doesn’t fit whatsoever. There is something to the idea of a person being so vain, that they’re only attracted to their own image but it gets so mixed in with other more messy and unpleasant topics. It’s much like erotically charged cinema of the 70s in that way, it gets so bogged down with sex and nudity, that the entire story is made to feel simply sordid and cheap. There’s very little substance to it, it boils down to a fairly basic mystery, which when solved, takes a left turn into fairly sleazy and unnecessary territory, in an almost baffling fashion.

Félix-Antoine Duval’s performance is an interesting one, with his entirely narcissistic tendencies, instead of the hero of the tale, he feels more like an antagonist. It’s a strange combination, as the writing is fighting against that to make out his selfishness as romantic, which doesn’t work well unless you can relate to such egotism. Tania Kontoyanni and Alexandra Petrachuk feel like they had a counter-weight to add to that note but don’t get the chance to pull it off, having their side of the story kept sadly to its basics.

Saint-Narcisse begins as a homage to erotic cinema of the past but ends in a messy, vapid story. It chooses to dredge up uncomfortable topics but pretends to be entirely unaware of that discomfort. It forgets to acknowledge the dark, twisted nature of its story, instead trying to romanticise everything and becoming empty and odd. Its sexual nature doesn’t feed into a larger atmosphere, the potential was there for something satisfyingly complex; to search through layers of complicated family history and conflict but it forgoes that in favour of a simple, vapid and strange story.

Verdict: ✯½ | 3/10

In selected cinemas 22 April & available on DVD and VOD from 2nd May

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