The Wild Boys: Gender-bending surrealism
by Vassilis Economou
- VENICE 2017: French director Bertrand Mandico delivers his debut feature, an experimental journey to the limits of imposed gender roles, set in an undisclosed realm of wonders
Notoriously provocative, French experimental artist Bertrand Mandico has finally delivered his debut feature film, The Wild Boys [+see also:
interview: Bertrand Mandico
film profile]. Having already captivated the realm of shorts with more than 40 creations, including festival favourites Prehistoric Cabaret (2014), Salammbô (2014) and Our Lady of Hormones (2015), Mandico returns to Venice five years after his Living Still Life. The Wild Boys is taking part in the competition of the 32nd International Film Critics’ Week at the 74th Venice Film Festival.
At the beginning of the 20th century on Réunion Island, five teenage boys (Pauline Lorillard, Vimala Pons, Diane Rouxel, Anael Snoek and Mathilde Warnier), the offspring of wealthy families, commit a crime. They will be sentenced to serve the Dutchman (Sam Louwyck), a captain whose ship will become their penitentiary. After many adventures, they will reach a wild, supernatural island, where Dr Séverine (Elina Löwensohn) lives. There, everything will change forever.
Once again, Mandico creates his own abstract, unconventional and almost surreal universe for his story to take place in. Initially blending elements from Lord of the Flies, A Clockwork Orange and even Emmanuelle, The Wild Boys evolves into a story that is not easy to narrate but whose main issue is strikingly present. By using an all-female cast in the roles of teenage boys, Mandico, who also wrote the script, immediately raises the question of the enforced limitations on genders. To give more weight to his arguments, the boys commit a crime as a result of their natural urges, and they are paradoxically sentenced to be exiled in a hedonists’ paradise to be reformed. The constant contradictions of the story along with the non-linear, almost lyrical, narration create a film that is mesmerisingly blasphemous in terms of gender political correctness, and which is ready to tear down all the petty-bourgeois prudishness that the hero(in)es and the viewers might have.
The Wild Boys is a highly referential work, but the most obvious inspiration is probably Walerian Borowczyk’s first live-action film, Goto, Island of Love (1969), featuring another forbidden island of temptations and extremities. Mandico has previously proven his admiration of the Polish auteur by paying tribute with his exceptional medium-length title Boro in the Box (2008). Both films dismantle totalitarianism: Goto that of political regimes and Boys that of socially imposed gender roles. The context of eroticism is quite prominent, too, as is the unabashed provocation that Borowczyk enjoyed so much. The films also share similar visual aesthetics. Mandico’s regular cinematographer, Pascale Granel, creates black-and-white photography that is textured like an overexposed silent film and at the same time adds poignant colour sequences that push the limits of bizarreness a little further. Finally, Elina Löwensohn, Mandico’s muse and the lead in most of his shorts (and widely known from Hal Hartley’s films), delivers one of her most captivating recent performances.
Mandico has succeeded in translating his radical, poisonous and lustfully voyeuristic world into a feature-length format, not only in terms of the aesthetics of experimental cinema, but also the dialogue on where gender bending ends and equality begins. It’s a subtle example of edgy political cinema in today’s mellow dullness.
The Wild Boys was produced by Emmanuel Chaumet, of French outfit Ecce Films.
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