It’s safe to call Canadian artist and filmmaker Bruce LaBruce a Panorama mainstay; it’s been two decades and counting since Hustler White premiered in this Berlinale strand in 1996. Between The Misandrists (Panorama, 2017) and his latest, The Visitor (Panorama 2024), there was the indie feature Saint-Narcisse (TIFF/Venice 2021) and the porn feature The Affairs of Lidia (2022), to prepare us for what was to come––certainly a visit one’d have a hard time forgetting. A reimagining of Pier Paolo Pasolini’s acclaimed 1968 film Teorema wherein a handsome, nameless man infiltrates a bourgeois family to then change their lives forever through sex. Naturally, LaBruce would pay tribute to a film that’s already queer and treats sex as a political tool for change. Even more so, he’d do it much more explicitly (with porn), provocatively (with political critique), and playfully (with campy humor).

LaBruce shapes his artistic practice through a continuous process of queering: the ways he turns his primary material (which can be anything, from a film reference to embodied ideology) inside-out are sometimes overt, but always bold and generous towards the audience. But his work doesn’t permit complacency even when you find yourself aroused, entertained, or both at once. Stimulation should have a political dimension, excitement should be inciting, and sex already holds revolutionary potential. The films of Bruce LaBruce galvanize this potential––unapologetically so.

The Visitor is no exception. It begins with a voiceover borrowed from actual political speeches, where the British right warns people against the “danger of refugees”––the kind of rhetoric one can easily recognize as real rather than fictional because it so heavily relies on fear-mongering and oozing racism with the urgency of “hide-your-children-lock-your-daughters.” A homeless man finds a suitcase on the (London Thames) river bank. He unzips it. A naked man comes out. He’s Black, visibly fit, and decisively silent. The scene cuts to various locations where similar suitcases open up to reveal multiple versions of the same man (Bishop Black). Is this every racist xenophobe homophobe’s nightmare? Oh, yes, it is.

Pasolini takes aim at the fascistic upper class and turns the use of sex and humiliation as a means of control against its members, but LaBruce brings an effervescence to every bit of the original. Stylistically, The Visitor updates Teorema by making it look ultramodern. Colorist Andrea Gómez drowns the frame in sultry reds and bottomless blues, strobing intercuts a scene time and time again, and the screen is often split in four, each bit with its own angle and color. The multiplication of images, lights, and tints forms a rhythm of its own to guide us through the plot of a porn movie: a mansion, a knock on the door, surprise, sexual appetite, consummation, transformation, end.

The double-reading of the plot as both a remake of Teorema and a porno is more than an inclusive move for those who are yet to discover Pasolini. By highlighting this latent similarity, LaBruce stays true to the spirit of the film by stretching out its (sexual and political) implications to their extreme––a gesture that is both riotous and celebratory. Not only does he employ gender-fluid and trans actors, but the way he stages queer sex feels novel too. The Visitor presents explicit, extended sex scenes that collate, use, and smash taboos such as incest (yes, there is an intimacy coordinator, Lidia Ravviso). Like Raspberry Reich or Purple Army Faction, the film jolts the viewer with brightly colored intertitles throughout every such scene. The LaBruce staple––parodying well-known political slogans to demand queer sexual liberation––engages with particularly British examples, where “Open Borders” becomes “Open Borders, Open Legs” and many, many more highly quotable one-liners for your books.

Thanks to his boldness and sensibility, LaBruce can afford to make it about the sex itself as much as the spiritual transformations it engenders. A Black, working-class refugee whose otherness is attractive (as it always is, the basis of erotic and fearful projections) can only avoid being subsumed into a stagnant upper-class logic by fucking and deserting it, in that exact order. The Visitor is a hustler who doesn’t speak until the very end, upon announcing his departure, but his body––aided by the stereotypical porn tropes of virility––has already enacted the change without a need for sermons. As a whole, the film has little dialogue and in its preference for silence, looks, and gestures over words, there is salvation. 

Physical performances dominate the screen; Black is particularly entrancing, as if his work in arthouse porn on Harvey Rabbit’s Captain Faggotron Saves the Universe (2023), or with Valentin Merz and Erika Lust has been preparing him for this role only. He radiates appeal and carries himself with such bewitching gravitas that his onscreen presence feels more powerful than the projections other characters try to enclose him in. No wonder the Visitor is worshipped and they all submit to him with a devotion that borders on religious love; no wonder he penetrates the faithful with a Black Jesus-shaped dildo. (Take that, Benedetta!)

At The Visitor‘s start, the Father (Macklin Kowalt) is carelessly strolling down the street with his copy of the Financial Times; the Mother (Amy Kingsmill) is carrying one-too-many branded shopping bags; the Son (Kurtis Lincoln) is pathless, the Daughter (Ray Filar) is jealous, and the Maid (Luca Federici) has no qualms about preparing dinner from the Visitor’s blood, urine, and excrement. By the end, everything that was once smooth has become textured––the sleek TV-style aesthetic morphing into a sweaty mix of shadow, light, and flickers––as Hannah Holland’s pumping techno soundtrack has fully taken over. A sexy new world emerges from the rubble of torn-down bourgeois morale. Rebirth is queered, and so is the revolution. After indulging in the sensual and intellectual pleasures of a film like The Visitor, who would even dare want the old order back? 

The Visitor premiered at the 2024 Berlinale.

Grade: B+

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