Director Bruce LaBruce hasn’t gone soft, just a little more tender with his new Gerontophilia, a film about intergenerational gay love. We spoke to the controversial queercore director about conventions, taboos and surprising his fans by not being so darn scandalous this time around.
Given your edgy reputation, would you be okay if I described Gerontophilia – about an 18-year-old boy’s attraction to an 81-year-old man – as sweet rather than shocking?
Well, in some ways the idea was to be shocking by not being shocking. For some people, the scandal is that there’s not scandal for a change, which is good. I think you want to change it up every once in a while.
My favourite line is when the older man says “Old men and gin bruise so easily.” See, that’s sweet. Did you come up with that line?
Yes, I coined that [he laughs].
Now, just so our readers are clear, Gerontophilia isn’t exactly a rom-com or Mary Poppins either.
No, it’s not. I’ve made seven films, and most of them have had sexually explicit content. This time the idea was to take on a concept that’s a little contentious and a little controversial, but to treat it in a more gently subversive way. I think the implications of the film are still somewhat challenging for some people.
Other than being a little gentler, the film still fits in comfortably with your previous works. You’re not reinventing the Bruce LaBruce or anything, right?
It’s consistent with the themes of a lot of my other films. It’s about a taboo relationship, which is to say it’s about two characters who have to face disapproval or even disgust from other people about their love, their desire. And yet the motivations behind the relationship are very pure. That’s why the female character in the film, Desiree, is so important. She articulates to the boy, Lake, the implications of his fetish.
She tells him that he’s fighting against nature. She tells him how radical it is.
Right. In her eyes, he’s a revolutionary. And it’s not just the conventions of society, in regard to the ideals of beauty, and what is supposed to be conventionally desirable in terms of sex or aesthetics. It’s that fight against nature, which dictates that people find mates who are young and virile and fertile. And so older people are dismissed and abandoned, because they’re not seen as being useful.
Sex and seniors isn’t something people like to talk about, yet you’ve made a feature film on the subject. What kind of thought went into the idea?
When I researched the film, I was reading a lot about how sexuality is dealt with in a lot of assisted-living facilities. It’s either denied – swept under the rug – or they’re overmedicated to keep them more docile.
And that’s straight sex. What about homosexuality?
Sometimes they have to go back in the closet. The idea of them expressing their homosexuality in that context would be frowned upon. Partly because of the generation we’re talking about, and partly because it’s a double taboo.
A double taboo, but there are even more lines than that crossed in the relationship, right?
For sure. It’s a love story about two characters who could not be farther apart. The boy is white; the old man is mixed race, identified as black. He’s straight; the old man is gay. He’s French; the old man is English. So, there are a lot of taboos there.
Sounds like you’re risking the alienation of your hardcore fans with a film that might also be distasteful to mainstream moviegoers. Is that a wise career move?
When I premiered the film at the Venice Film Festival, an Italian journalist told me that he loved the film but that the two people he brought thought it was disgusting. So, I thought, “Oh, good, some people still think it’s disgusting.”
Why thank you.