The Visitor (2024) ‘Berlinale’ Movie Review: By the time he was mysteriously abducted and murdered mere weeks before the premiere of his final film, Pier Paolo Pasolini had cultivated for himself a reputation as a boundary-pushing filmmaker, content with critiquing the fast-tracking of consumerism and cultural dilution of his native Italy through any transgressive means necessary. Oftentimes, that transgression manifested in exploring the politics of his day through taboo sexual content, and one of his most renowned projects in that respect is the 1968 allegorical feature Teorema. Striking to audiences at the time for its dense themes and sparse delivery, Teorema would endure as one of Pasolini’s most discussed and acclaimed films, a testament to the director’s ability to push buttons while remaining firm in his conviction that something pertinent will reveal itself to us if we push back. 

It’s by no means a perfect film, but the influence of Teorema as an exploration of class through sex has continued to penetrate to this day. And so, only half a year after Emerald Fennell came through with the exceedingly obnoxious “Saltburn”—a film subtle only in Fennell’s decision not to outright designate it as being loosely inspired by “Teorema”—Canadian (adult) filmmaker Bruce LaBruce, throws his own hat in the ring with an explicit (in more ways than one) retooling of Pasolini’s vision, The Visitor.

Like its inspiration, The Visitor follows a mysterious stranger (the hulking and chiseled Bishop Black) who enters the lives of a bourgeois family and seduces each of them one at a time, bringing with his libido a swift change in all of their lives. Unlike Pasolini’s original, LaBruce takes the allegory one step further (and less subliminally) by introducing his titular visitor as having washed up on British shorelines inside a suitcase, as Adrian Bracken’s extremely unsubtle voiceover, under the guise of in-universe political commentary, tells us in no uncertain terms that this man is meant as a stand-in for refugees–possibly from Rwanda, but feasibly from anywhere.

All of this happens, naturally, after an opening epilepsy-inducing light show, setting the stage for an artistic endurance test the likes of which you likely wouldn’t encounter outside a museum exhibition your political science teacher dragged you out to see on a field trip.

There is little doubt that if you are the type of person who enjoys aggressively direct political messaging with a playfully disobedient edge, then LaBruce’s film will scratch that itch. There’s a particular joy—a thrill, even—that comes from seeing gleefully insubordinate art throw a wrench into staid conservative machinations and freak out those who label anyone advocating for affordable healthcare as a communist. But just as it’s fun to see old men who look like they’re grumpy because they skipped their Metamucil today flip their tables over the sight of genitals, so too is it exasperating for those of us who get the picture and want to see something more… or, less? From that perspective, The Visitor offers little to nothing.

A still from The Visitor (2024).
A still from “The Visitor” (2024).

Shot with a self-satisfied amateurishness as if John Waters had produced a pornographic version of Kanye West’s “Runaway” short film, The Visitor begins and ends with the premise that it will essentially be Teorema, but this time with unsimulated sex scenes. Dry as Pasolini’s approach to this same material was, at least, that sparseness left some room for interpretation and contemplation. Once you’ve spent five minutes in LaBruce’s world, you pretty much know exactly what you’re going to get; some will get fully onboard with that vision, but most of us will be left feeling like hostages in a porn convention disguised as an avant-garde showcase.

To that end, unless one actually finds value in examining and critically reviewing porn—not my forte, I’m afraid—then finding deep criticisms of The Visitor comes to be a fruitless endeavor; it would be like trying to critique the performances of a car commercial or commenting on the artwork of a cereal box. Labeled as a comedy, the only real source of humor to be found comes during the decidedly un-titillating sex scenes (likely the point) when LaBruce reuses that epileptic flash filter to incorporate cutesy sexual-political messages across the screen—“Eat Out the Rich” and the like. 

You could argue that The Visitor is entirely meant to be taken at face-value and, therefore, all criticism of its lack of nuance or jarring presentation is a play right into LaBruce’s sweaty lap. Sure, you can make that argument—in fact, it’s probably the correct argument to make for a film of this variety. But like Pink Flamingos or Pasolini’s own Salò, predictable tastelessness isn’t a bulletproof vest against criticism. You wanted to piss people off? All you did was bore them…

Nobody can accuse the film of being difficult to interpret, but what Pasolini at least understood in presenting this premise with anti-bourgeois overtones was that the satire has to either be served loosely enough to invoke interpretation or, at the very least, be watchable. The Visitor falters on both fronts because it presents political concepts and perspectives that can be untangled within ten minutes and proceeds to bash you over the head with them for the 90 that follow. On occasion, the worst of Pier Paolo Pasolini’s films fell into this very trap; the act of confrontational transgression would blow its load rather quickly, leaving you with precious little to conclude beyond “I get it… What else have you got?” In that respect, Bruce LaBruce can claim to live up to his inspiration. 

The Visitor was screened at the 2024 Berlinale

The Visitor (2024) Movie Links: IMDb, Wikipedia
The Visitor (2024) Movie Cast: Bishop Black, Macklin Kowal, Amy Kingsmill
The Visitor (2024) Movie Genre: Comedy | Runtime: 1h 41 Mins

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