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Review: Wild Side (2004)

Directed by: Sébastien Lifshitz | 93 minutes | drama | Actors: Stéphanie Michelini, Yasmine Belmadi, Edouard Nikitine, Josiane Stoléru, Corentin Carinos, Perrine Stevenard, Benoît Verhaert, Fabrice Rodriguez, Amine Adjina, Christophe Sermet, Loïc Pichon, Veronika Pereverzeva, Antony Hegarty, Gilles Nahunogori, Pierre Nohori, Pierre Nahori, Pierre Forgogeasori Réjane Kerdaffrec, Pierre-Arnaud Jolard, Hugo Sablic

Although this by Sebastien Lifshitz takes its name from the song by Lou Reed, which is about a number of transvestites who often lived in the circles of Andy Warhol in the 1960s and 1970s, Lifshitz’s film opens with a completely different number and artist: Antony Hegarty (from Antony and the Johnsons) sings the sensitive song “I Fell in Love with a Dead Boy” in a transvestite bar. Shots of protagonist Stéphanie’s naked are accompanied by the first notes of the song. “Are you a boy or a girl?” Stephanie has been living independently for about ten or fifteen years. Her childhood home was in a rural French village, but she traded it as fast as she could for the busy streets of Paris. Stephanie used to be called Pierre and the disappearance / death of her sister and father left a mark on her childhood. Today she has a new family: her loved ones Mikhail, a Russian refugee (Edouard Nikitine) and the North African Djamel (Yasmine Belmadi), who earns money by prostituting herself in the train station toilets. When her mother turns out to be seriously ill, Stephanie, who is not yet with Mikhail, leaves for her home village to take care of her. Later Djamel joins the trio.

Stéphanie cannot choose between the two men in her life. Fortunately for her, that is not necessary for the time being, and so they form a ménage-à-trois. In the tranquility of the rural village, the three-thirty-somethings have enough time to think about their present, past and future. The filmmaker uses these reflective moments to tell the life stories of the three lovers in a non-chronological way. The viewer gets little to grips with: when and where certain scenes take place is not always clear. That is a conscious choice of the maker; but it does mean that the motivations and backgrounds of the characters are omitted and the viewer is less able to identify with them. Are Stéphanie, Djamel and Mikhail happy? Do they stick together? We will never know.

“Wild Side” therefore seems more intended as an atmosphere drawing than that Lifshitz has made a plot-driven or wants to convey a message to his audience. The fact that the life of a prostitute is not easy, let alone when she is transsexual, is after all as clear as a piece. The three main characters are outsiders, but that is presented as fact, there is no reason whatsoever for the filmmaker to change that or to let them come to terms with it. The cinematography, together with the acting performances of Michelini and Nikitine, are the greatest assets of “Wild Side”. Stéphanie Michelini, for whom this meant her first role, is also transsexual in real life, but apart from this suitability for this role, she also knows how to convince and move. Agnès Godard is responsible for the camera work in “Wild Side” and portrays the sometimes quite explicit sex scenes tenderly and intimately. Yet it is not a movie for the general public. Precisely because Lifshitz has preferred to show the sexual lives of these three people in all directness, and to make the viewer guess at the emotional motives of his protagonists, he loses part of the audience. “Wild Side” is neither a good nor a bad movie, but it is a frustrating one.

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