In our youth-obsessed culture, the idea of elderly people having sexual desire is almost taboo, so little does the idea make it into the storylines of films or television programmes. And while a fetish for leather or S&M is seen as kinky or adventurous, sexual desire for somebody 60 years older than you is seen by many as a sort of perversion.
This makes it just the topic to be tackled by Canadian director Bruce LaBruce in his latest film Gerontophilia, which is being screened during this year’s London LGBT Film Festival.
Meaning “love of old people”, the film stars Pier-Gabriel Lajoie as cute Quebecois Lake who, despite being in a relationship with a girl, finds himself attracted to much older men.
Chance brings Lake the opportunity of a job in an assisted care centre for the elderly, where the teenager strikes up a romance with octogenarian Melvyn Peabody (Walter Borden). This culminates in the two heading off on a road trip across the country as Lake decides to rescue Melvyn from the ill treatment and poor care he is receiving at the nursing home.
It would have been very easy for this film to give inter-generational desire the freak-show treatment, and a scene early in the film, when Lake turns his gaze to look at an older man at a street corner did provoke some giggles in the audience.
But as Lake and Melvyn grow closer, and as Melvyn’s charming personality is slowly revealed throughout the film, their relationship no longer seems as unusual as it first appears. Later, when Lake confesses to his girlfriend that he “might have a fetish”, she asks him: “You mean like leather?” which he dismisses with: “ No, not that bad.” Quite right, Lake!
While Gerontophilia hints at serious issues in the way we treat our senior citizens, it keeps things light-hearted, with the high camp of Lake’s über-feminist girlfriend and his alcoholic mother providing the laughs. After all, just because we are watching a film about old people doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy it.
LaBruce has never flinched from depicting the taboo world of alternative sexual tastes, which has meant that his films have tended to remain very much a mainstay of art-house film festivals or within the LGBT subculture.
It is rare that I would salute a predominantly underground director’s move towards mainstream filmmaking, but by toning down the sex and nudity of his previous works, LaBruce has made a film that I hope will be enjoyed by wide audiences in the months to come.