Film

Bruce LaBruce’s Bold Gerontophilia Smashes Sexual Taboos

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In a recent MoMA retrospective, queercore pioneer Bruce LaBruce cemented his reputation as a shock-and-schlock auteur whose tendency toward pornography and violence set him apart from the serious-minded New Queer Cinema movement of the 1990s — an approach so left of the left that John Waters, in a 2011 documentary on LaBruce called The Advocate of Fagdom, described it as “gayly incorrect.” Though its imagery is tame by LaBruce’s standards, Gerontophilia follows his fascination with taboo sexual behavior; it concerns a relationship between a teenage boy and a much older patient at an assisted-living facility.

After an embarrassing bodily response causes him to quit his lifeguard gig, angel-faced Lake (Pier-Gabriel Lajoie) moves on to a menial job sterilizing bedpans and turning down sheets at an old folks’ home. It’s there that he meets Melvyn Peabody (Walter Borden), a frail man who happily responds to his flirtations. Soon enough, the pair are engaged in an intimate relationship, which LaBruce shoots in tender close-ups with beatific lighting.

A stylish soundtrack (Liars, the Horrors, Crystal Castles) and flashes of violence underline that, despite the setting, Gerontophilia is ultimately about young people’s problems. Lake has an uncomfortably libidinous mother (Marie-Hélène Thibault) and a radical feminist girlfriend (Katie Boland, a ringer for Scottish actress Shirley Henderson) whose ideas don’t hold up to questioning. Neither is happy about Lake’s new relationship, and the fact that it’s rushing toward a natural expiration date seems to have escaped everyone but LaBruce, who’s angling either for tragedy or an arch jab at the coldness of sexual conquest.

I only wish he had let his conceit ripen long enough for us to tell.