The main tool of an actor is the body. It is with the body than an actor communicates, much more than with words. A dancer likewise. So it is natural that a documentary on a burlesque dance and theater company would emphasise corporal feats. What Femme Brutal brings to discussion is that unfit bodies too can be sexy and desired.
The film opens with a series of presentation of the queer-feminist artists behind the Austrian Club Burlesque Brutal. They created stage personas and perform exquisite acts exploring their sexuality. Although the names of their characters are quite explicit – Cunt, Madame Cameltoe -, there is hardly any full nudity. The documentary gradually explores the actors and how and why they joined the company.
Most of the performers were in search of an audience they could identify with. By revealing that they couldn’t fit in society, they use art as a means to express their personal process of coming out. The problem is that they intentionally reduce their public to other lesbians. Their audience is their mirror. They even have control over who’s attending. There is no confrontation and the performances finish as a mere act of narcissism. Performers do not have to conquer the audience; they already know what they came for. They are their partners.
What is the point of coming out when you only show your identity to a niche? One of the performers affirms that every intelligent woman will sooner or later develop her lesbian side. That is offensive to heterosexual women.
Nevertheless, Femme Brutal has some achievements. The concept and production of the show are made by the hands and minds of standup comediennes. In the history of comedy, women are much less numerous probably because still it is less accepted that women can make jokes about sex. The film Live from New York! (Bao Nguyen, 2015) reveals that very few women in the New Yorker TV show could become standup artists, in a testament of the difficulties that women face in this field.
The Duke of Burgundy (Peter Strickland, 2014) is another recent production that explores the feminine quest for pleasure in a homosexual relationship. Like Femme Brutal, it reveals aspects of sadomasochistic habits, suggesting that women still have a long way to go in their search for pleasure. Black masks and whips relate to bondage and discipline, restraint and punishment. In The Duke of Burgundy, this is deeply connected to love; in Femme Brutal, it is merely an act.
Gina Pane is the strongest influence on the Club Burlesque Brutal troupe. Her performance includes extreme self-harm, distinguishing her from other female body artists of the 1970s. She expresses in essence the vulnerability of human body.
Femme Brutal probably won’t be shown in Cinemark circuit but you can follow them on their Facebook community (just click here) It will probably show in the European LGBT circuit soon.
This is the film trailer: