TORONTO — Toronto filmmaker, underground pornographer and all-around boundary-baiting provocateur Bruce LaBruce has accomplished something downright outrageous with his latest picture, Gerontophilia: he made something accessible, tender and — gasp — sort of mainstream.
In the 50-year-old’s estimation, it’s perhaps the most shocking move he could have made.
“I was expecting a certain amount of backlash (or) blowback,” the director said over coffee at last September’s Toronto International Film Festival. “I’ve made seven feature films pretty much all with explicit content, and suddenly to change gears and make something a little more accessible, possibly a little more mainstream — certainly done more within an industry context, government financing, my first union crew, etc.
“I would expect some raised eyebrows,” he continued. “I’m saying it’s shocking sometimes not to be shocking. The scandal is that there is no scandal.”
Still, fans of LaBruce’s more nakedly daring work will still find layers of subtext to chew on in what otherwise seems his first pleasant trifle.
Gerontophilia, which opens Friday in Toronto, centres on Lake (newcomer Pier-Gabriel Lajoie), an 18-year-old who takes a job in a nursing home. There, he develops feelings for an 81-year-old resident of the facility (portrayed by the estimable Walter Borden), and an unlikely romance blossoms.
Although there’s a sweetness to the relationship and LaBruce’s film in general, he’s characteristically quick to undercut it. He wanted the film to be about a fetish — hence the title — and not a story of love overcoming a seemingly insurmountable difference.
In other words, Lake doesn’t fall for Mr. Peabody in spite of their chasmic age disparity, but precisely because of it.
“I very consciously made him not gay-identified — he has a girlfriend,” LaBruce said of the younger character. “I also consciously start out with his fetish first. That’s why the film is about gerontophilia — he does have several encounters with old men where he gets excited. He doesn’t quite understand why.”
The film is LaBruce’s first to be deemed acceptable for audiences as young as 14 in Canada, a fact that excited him.
While it isn’t sexually explicit, LaBruce’s camera does quite intentionally linger on Borden’s body, and he acknowledges he was interested in the “strong taboo” of sex among the elderly.
“Even within a slightly more mainstream context, I wanted to have this kind of perhaps gently satiric aspect to the film,” he said. “It is the old man’s body that is kind of quote-unquote objectified. He’s the love object. He’s the object of desire. And the camera explores his body.
“It’s going against the conventions of society, which is the cult of youth and beauty — what makes someone desirable and how youth is totally overvalued in pop culture,” he added. “That was quite consciously done.”
LaBruce is clear about the fact that he is trying to reach a wider audience, but warns against presuming this is somehow the beginning of a trend.
Still, he appreciates the way viewers have responded. Prior to screening at TIFF, the film was whisked to the Venice Film Festival, where he says “audiences really responded.”
Of course, he was equally tickled by those who didn’t.
“When we premiered the film in Venice, an Italian journalist said that he loved the film but he took two friends to it and they thought it was disgusting,” LaBruce recalled with a smile.
“I was like: Great. I’m still disgusting people even in a mainstream context.”