Despite being set in Brooklyn, Bizarre is as French as both its director and lead actor. That means it’s a little pretentious, a tad peculiar, not always easy to access, and has some full-frontal nudity thrown in for good measure. However, there’s enough there to hold the interested viewer’s attention.
Maurice is a young Frenchman who’s had something bad happen at home and ended up in New York. He’s taken in by two women, Kim and Betty, working in their alternative burlesque bar, Bizarre, and living in their flat above. He becomes almost the mascot of the club, and also catches the eye of fellow bar worker, Luka. After Maurice spends a night in the women’s bed, he and Luka ending up sharing a room, although things are more chaste than Luka might like.
Then, the free-spirited, bisexual Charlie comes into their lives and shakes things up. While Maurice has been trying to avoid connection, he finds himself in an unexpected surrogate family/circle, which could become dangerous if he starts to be threatened by his past.
The plot is mixed with plenty of footage of outsider burlesque, featuring real performers from the brilliant (and British) Mat Fraser to Crimson Kitty, and The Cockettes’ Rumi Missabu.
It’s an odd and sometimes slightly confused/confusing film that often suffers from being just a little too pleased with itself, while not always being 100% certain of its story or its characters. For example, the opening voiceover includes the narrator’s acknowledgement that it’s a film, as he says the director told him to speak English, but then this self-reflexive idea is never really brought up again. Or there’s the first night Maurice is at Bizarre, when the two women who take Maurice in insist that he shares their bed and take a look at his penis. Indeed, less generous viewers might suggest the entire scene is an excuse for a brief glimpse of cock. It’s a shame as it initially challenges us with whether the women’s actions are somewhat predatory or purely free-spirited, but after that the motivations and impetus of the women, for who they are and what they do, is never really brought up again.
However, what initially has a tendency to feel disjointed and a tad random begins to build towards something more interesting when it starts to explore what’s happening between Luka and Maurice – the former increasingly besotted, while the latter is more enigmatic, both enticing and rejecting Luka simultaneously. Things get even more intriguing with the arrival of Charlie, who shakes things up by sleeping with both Luka and the women, and becoming somewhere between friend and brother to the boys. It becomes, like the alternative burlesque in the bar, a look at connections that form outside society’s expectations and accepted norms. It’s also a rare film that takes bisexuality for granted and without judgement, while presenting us with an open group of people where anyone could potentially sleep with anyone else, in various combinations, and no one really cares.
While it’s interesting and sometimes quite sexy (and there’s some decent eye candy), it also seems keen to be somewhat obscure, leaving certain things unexplained in a somewhat haphazard way, so you’re never quite sure if it’s because it’s playing with the audience or if it’s just a bit confused and ill-thought out (or indeed it lacked the cash to show certain things). It means that some people will just scratch their heads and not know exactly what’s going on, finding the whole thing frustratingly oblique. Others though will be extremely intrigued by its suggestions and melange of different characters.
It almost wants to be a filmic version of the outsider burlesque itself. It’s a deliberately confrontational set of contrasts – sexual yet serious, playful yet thought-provoking, socially political and yet frivolous on the surface, in-your-face and yet sometimes coy, captivating and yet annoying, inviting you in almost voyeuristically while sticking its middle finger up at you at the same time. However, whether that actually builds to anything more than the sum of its parts is left almost completely to the mind of the viewer.
Overall Verdict: Many will simply be confused by the mishmash properties of Bizarre, but others will be sucked in by its hinted ideas, sexual atmosphere and fascination with the possibilities of alternative culture(s).
Reviewer: Tim Isaac