THE RASPBERRY REICH
Director: Bruce LaBruce
Stars: Susanne Sachsse, Daniel Batscher, Andreas Rupprecht, Anton Z. Risan, Daniel Fettig
Available on DVD - order here
Review by Jaap Kooijman
“Put your Marxism where your mouth is” is one of the slogans that repeatedly run across the screen of Bruce LaBruce’s The Raspberry Reich. Also, on LaBruce’s own website, black and red T-shirts are sold with the slogan printed on the back. Like the film’s other statements such as “Madonna is counter-revolutionary,” “heterosexuality is the opiate of the masses,” and “join the homosexual intifada,” the slogan reveals how political criticism in capitalist society (think Naomi Klein’s “No Logo”) can easily be reduced to sound bite products of the same corporate culture it criticizes. In this way, LaBruce exposes the possible hypocrisy of radical political activism, yet at the same time – by doing so – performs a self-conscious radical political act himself by revealing the ability of corporate capitalism to appropriate even the most radical criticism, which subsequently can be bought on DVD.
With all his films, the Canadian gay independent director keeps viewers guessing what they are actually watching. Are his films meant as a joke – just amateurish camp – or are they political pamphlets in disguise, criticizing the prudish bourgeois moral of capitalist society? LaBruce never fails to point out in his films, either implicitly or explicitly, that he realizes how ambiguous his films are, often making fun of the possible intellectual and farfetched academic interpretations of his work. The Raspberry Reich is no exception. Both a pornographic film to shock and titillate its audience and an over-the-top hilarious portrayal of a group of German radical political activists (or terrorists, as Bush would say), clearly modelled after the Rote Army Faction (RAF), The Raspberry Reich makes fun of intellectual Marxism without denouncing its political potential.
The Raspberry Reich tells the story of a contemporary German group of radical political activists, led by Frau Gudrun (Susanne Sachsse), who literally has copied the identity of the real-life Gudrun Ensslin, an original member of the RAF Baader-Meinhof Gang active in the 1970s. Gudrun believes that non-conformist sexuality is a political act to bring capitalist society down, and thus she fucks her boyfriend Holger (Daniel Batscher) in the elevator of their apartment building, while a German elderly couple looks on, both shocked and aroused. But as Gudrun believes that monogamous heterosexuality is a construct to maintain bourgeois capitalist society, the act of non-conformist heterosexuality is not revolutionary enough for her. Therefore she perceives homosexuality (sex, not homosexual love) as the most powerful revolutionary act. She encourages Che (Daniel Fettig) to masturbate while caressing phallic guns in front of huge posters of the Cuban revolutionary Che Guevara, here reduced to an iconic commercial image. She also forces her straight male followers to have sex with each other, though much to her dismay, the initially reluctant men enjoy gay sex so much that it no longer remains just a revolutionary act, but soon turns into homosexual love.
To provide a major blow to German capitalism, Gudrun orders her men to kidnap Patrick (Andreas Rupprecht), the son of a rich German banker. One of Gudrun’s men, Clyde (Anton Z. Risan), accidentally handcuffs himself to Patrick, and they find themselves romantically locked up in the trunk of a BMW. What Gudrun doesn’t know is that Patrick is gay, and because of that, is disowned by his father. Moreover, Patrick and Clyde have met before and are actually in love with each other. Soon, Gurdun sees all her all revolutionary attempts go astray. What was intended as an attack on capitalism proves to be a way to bring the gay lovers Patrick and Clyde together. Moreover, all Gudrun’s followers end up being (some of them closeted) homosexuals, leaving her to fight for the revolution all by herself.
While in most of his films (with the exception of Skin Gang, the x-rated version of Skin Flick), LaBruce suggests pornography but refrains from actually showing penetration and cum shots, in The Raspberry Reich we get to see it all. Particularly the scene of Che masturbating with a gun which could have come straight from a well-produced porn movie. Yet, however titillating and aesthetically pleasing this scene turns out to be, it also retains its political edge, critiquing the phallic glorification of weaponry by revelling in its pleasure. Also the non-sex scenes are shot beautifully, adding a tongue-of-cheek sentiment to the serious business of political radicalism by contrasting it to slapstick situations or overly nostalgic shots of Gundrun and her men strolling along on the sunlit pavements of Berlin.
Perhaps surprisingly, in the end The Raspberry Reich is most revolutionary as a celebration of homosexual love, rather than as a critique of either capitalist society or naive political radicalism. Radical gay sex has not succeeded in undermining the monogamous heterosexuality of capitalist society, but instead has opened up the space for assumingly monogamous gay romance. As the gay version of the straight romantic couple Bonnie and Clyde, Patrick and Clyde (!) end up robbing the banks owned by Patrick’s father. Here romantic homosexual love seems to embody the true revolution, suggesting that the most revolutionary act is not to be found in Marxism, but in putting your gay romance where your mouth is.