Meet the actors reigning chaos on the establishment in 90s Berlin, in Bruce LaBruce’s new lawless and hilarious film
Bruce LaBruce on The Misandrists:
“I’ve always wanted to make a film that is completely centred on women. I’ve made two films that are exclusively about male characters, so I thought it was high time I made a film about women. Most of my films have at least one very strong female character, and in fact she is usually like my proxy in the movie: the character that controls the narrative or is the most philosophical or analytical. In terms of matriarchy, I spent a lot of time in a strong feminist academic environment in university (I took a course called psychoanalysis and feminism in grad school, and I was the only male in the class), so I was taught the history of feminism. I know the dynamics very well, enough to be critical about what I consider the bad parts of it – the censorship and anti-porn and anti-transgender faction. I do basically think that the patriarchy has fucked up the world and women should be given a chance to run it, but not if they are assimilationists and conform to the capitalist, neo-liberal status quo.
“The casting of the film was very fluid. The producers cast from professional casting agencies, and I cast from social media and friends and colleagues with whom I’ve worked before. I’ve worked with Susanne Sachsse on numerous films and stage productions, so I’m always keen to work with her. Kembra Pfahler and Viva Ruiz are established performers in their own right. Fryd Bliss Resting and Sam (Dye) came to a talk I did at a gallery in Berlin, and we immediately connected and I knew I wanted them in the film. I met Kita Updike after I put a notice on Facebook that I was looking for a young transgender person to play one of the leads. She responded, and she was so perfect – it was as if I had written the part exclusively for her.
“People have told me over the years that I have a light touch dealing with very heavy material. My film The Raspberry Reich was a somewhat harsh critique of the radical left and of radical chic, but it was simultaneously very sympathetic to extreme-left ideals and political strategies. (I was heavily into the punk movement in the 80s, so I’ve always been involved in radical politics.) I approached The Misandrists in the same way: it’s an occasionally blunt critique or satire of certain aspects of radical feminism, but at the same time I think it’s quite sympathetic toward and supportive of a lot of basic feminist principles. I tried to give the women in the cast as much creative latitude as I could. I purposely worked as much as possible with women in key creative positions – the music composers, the editor, the producers, the costume designer, the sales agent, etc. With the actors, especially the ones who played the schoolgirls, I was open to them altering their costumes and bringing their own style to the uniforms, and defining their own characters. I really did try to make as female-centric a film as I could.
“I want people to consider that feminism can be very sexual and sexy. That lesbian separatists are totally justified in their beliefs considering the weight of history against them – the oppression, exploitation and subjugation. And that camp is a secret code shared among queers that can be quite political and radical. Oh, and that trans women should be considered women. I make it very clear in the film that I am against assimilationist feminism, just as I’m against gay assimilation. I don’t believe that adopting the social and sexual behaviours of your longtime oppressors, and capitulating to their corrupt, capitalistic and patriarchal system, is a valid strategy. Inevitably, the oppressed become the oppressors, a theme that runs through my films. A certain strain of current feminism buys into anti-porn, anti-sex, pro-censorship activism, which goes against all my artistic and philosophical principles!” – Bruce LaBruce
After ditching travelling across Thailand to star in Bruce LaBruce’s The Misandrists, Olivia Kundisch’s portrayal of her character Hilde wasn’t exactly what she had in mind for her summer holiday. A Berlin resident of nine years (she sums up her experiences in the city as “madness”), Kundisch is unlikely to be a newcomer at the shoot location – legendary broadcasting house-turned-nightlife spot Funkhaus. “I grew up in the countryside close to the Polish border,” she says. “In summer 2008 I moved to Berlin on my own. Living here is incredible, but it’s always good to get out of my comfort zone.” Playing the role of a rule-obsessed Female Liberation Army member seemingly more devoted to the cause than many of her fellow conscripts, Kundisch admits she wasn’t always 100 per cent comfortable with the film’s no-holds-barred script. “I did have a moment of despair because of lines like, ‘Big Mother says cigarettes are phallic surrogates indicating an unresolved oral phase,’” she says – but LaBruce quickly put her at ease. “Bruce is a remarkable, passionate, radical and resilient artist. So it was an awesome experience for me.”
Born and raised in the American Bible Belt and describing the town she grew up in as “300,000 people with nothing to do”, it’s unsurprising that Kita Updike found herself running away to New York City as soon as she was presented with the opportunity. After taking a break from working in the fashion industry as a model, she found herself auditioning for the role of Isolde, “a young girl who is more sure of herself than many of the characters” in The Misandrists. However satirical LaBruce’s film may be in nature, the situation for Updike’s character speaks to the many challenges facing young people today, from struggling with gender identity to simply finding a place in the world to fit in and call home. For Updike, that’s one of the reasons she had no problems preparing for her screen debut. “Before the film I was not open about being a trans woman,” says the actress, whose own personal journey mirrors that of her character. “I shared many of the issues in Isolde’s story.”
Working as a feminist pornographic performer, Lina Bembe found comfort in the parallels between her professional life, her on-screen “succubus-in-the-making” persona Helga in The Misandrists, and the positive depiction of porn that Bruce LaBruce is committed to. “I do porn out of conviction, so it’s been amazing to work on a project that emphasises the disruptive power of pornography and even elevates it to a radical, revolutionary act,” she enthuses. “For me this is significant, because there aren’t many films out there that address the potential of pornography as a means for femme empowerment.” Championing the importance of female friendship in her everyday life, Bembe says the only downside to shooting the film was the fact she only had a few days with the cast. “They are all inspiring, strong (people) with different origins and profiles: professional actresses, artists, filmmakers, porn performers, musicians, activists. There was beauty everywhere I put my eyes and that was really special.”
“People say I’m his fucking muse. Go figure,” proclaims Susanne Sachsse, when asked how she got involved with The Misandrists and about her relationship with Bruce LaBruce. After working with the prince of provocation across theatre and film for 15 years, the 52-year-old Berlin-based actress plays the matriarchal Big Mother – headmistress and leader of the lesbian separatist terrorist cell the Female Liberation Army. Describing her character as “hilarious and hypocritical”, Sachsse nonetheless thinks “we need all the radical feminism we can get” in the current political climate. And while Big Mother may be an anarchist on screen, Sachsse encountered her own scrapes with the law while filming in Berlin. “I got stopped by the police on Alexanderplatz while I was carrying my blonde wig in a box. This was after a terrorist attack and the city was swarming with police,” she recalls. “They demanded to know what was in the box. ‘Just a wig,’ I quickly answered. ‘We’re shooting a feminist terrorist film and I’m late for the shoot.’ They handcuffed me, ripped open the box, and I yelled at them not to ruin my wig.”
“The world is ending. Keep smashing the patriarchy, it is good for your health,” says Sam Dye AKA The Misandrists’ Antje, who is one half of the Female Liberation Army’s trainee pornographic directing team. Describing commercialised feminism as “cringe”, Dye shares his co-star Fryd Bliss Resting’s opinion that the femme focus of the film is simply “common sense”. Nearly all his screen-time is spent with Resting, but the pair’s relationship extends beyond the world of The Misandrists – off-screen friends and creative partners, the pair have begun producing lo-fi experimental film work together under the guise of ‘dyeresting’. For Dye, favourite on-set moments include playing pranks, “hanging in the empty loft with (Fryd)” and “recording (his co-stars) doing crazy shit or pouring their hearts out while they thought they were alone”. But, according to the cast’s number-one enfant terrible, the most extreme moment on-set is too out-there to repeat.
Most third-year acting students can’t boast about having a Bruce LaBruce film under their belts well before graduation – but Til Schindler can. Playing the only man in the movie with more than five minutes of screentime, Schindler’s experience shooting for The Misandrists sounds just as intense as his character Volker’s journey in the film. “On my first day I was tied to a table, laying there naked in front of 13 women and a film team,” he reveals. Portraying an anti-capitalist activist seeking refuge with the terrorist cell – and falling in love with one of its members – Schindler is subjected to the full force of the film’s femme supremacy. “Volker’s critique (of capitalism) is simplistic,” the actor explains. “He thinks vandalising banks is changing things and patriarchy is a side (issue).” That LaBruce is able to capture such ideological subtleties is not lost on Schindler. “It’s a thin line (between) making a movie that is a satirical critique of ideological feminism and still a feminist film, but Bruce succeeded.”
FRYD BLISS RESTING
Admitting she had “no idea who this Bruce guy was” prior to LaBruce approaching her and suggesting she watch his films, Fryd Bliss Resting took a nonchalant approach to preparing for her part in The Misandrists. “First day on set, I came straight from the party,” says the performer. Acting alongside close collaborator Sam Dye, pictured left with Resting, her role in the film is a case of art imitating life. “My character (Ursula) is very me, but me trying to be cool,” she says. Resting’s character is training to direct the feminist-lesbian porn productions that Big Mother hopes will help bring down the establishment; off-screen, Resting is already a pro behind the camera, producing lo-fi shorts and music videos distributed via Tumblr. Emphasising the fact that the film’s nearly all-female cast is not particularly earth-shattering, but simply “how it’s supposed to be”, Resting says the recent mainstream-media spotlighting of feminism is “slyly problematic”, though on balance it’s probably a good thing. For her, our best shot at achieving gender equality would be to “move to Mars with your closest friends and learn mitosis”.
“I think the popularisation of feminism in mainstream media is amazing and there needs to be much more of it. Woman or girls need to see what’s in our possibilities and abilities. I think a lot of woman just never even imagine how it could be to be independent and strong, because they only leaned the patriarchal way. It needs to be shown to inspire and motivate women throughout the world. I loved working with Bruce, his way of directing is just great. He knows how to work with you productively and at the same time to give you freedom to try stuff out and feel free. [My character] Ute is a very tough girl – at least on the outside. She doesn’t open up or trust anyone. She observes and analyses people before opening up and allowing them to be close to her, but with those close to her she’s caring and very protective. Her experiences before joining the FLA were so devastating, she made herself strong and is willing to learn from Big Mother, so no one can ever do her any harm ever again. And she hates man!”
“I got involved in the project after Bruce saw me in a Burlesque performance where I was covered in fake blood and mince meat. My character is this movie is interested in maintaining authority and physical education. It was small role, but for me it was fun – and a holiday from the island I was stranded on at the time called Helgoland where I was working in a bakery. I'm glad that feminism is being talked about in the media more, I think there used to be clichés attached to feminism and I’m pleased that these are being broken open and evolved. Feminism is still being talked about because it's not done yet. There is still a lot of equality to reach between the sexes, especially in the workplace – giving birth often puts a woman at a disadvantage if she wants to keep or progress in her job. As a transgender woman, I feel pressure that I have to overcompensate my femininity and this really dries my pussy. Society seems to have code which it needs to read and understand people.”
Hair Kei Terada at Julian Watson Agency, make-up Laura Dominique at Streeters using M.A.C, lighting assistants Harry Burner, Arne Vossfeldt, styling assistant Jordan Duddy, hair assistant Franziska Presche, make-up assistant Jana Kalgajeva, digital operator Sebastian Stöhr, production Artistry London, local producer Friederike Seifert, special thanks Funkhaus Berlin