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Bertrand Mandico • Director

“I hate boundaries, but I like smugglers”


- VENICE 2017: Cineuropa sat down with Bertrand Mandico, who is presenting his feature debut, The Wild Boys, in the 32nd International Critics’ Week

Bertrand Mandico  • Director
(© L Kurtz/International Critics' Week)

Bertrand Mandico, who has already forged a lengthy career in experimental cinema, with 40 short and medium-length films to his credit, is presenting his feature debut, The Wild Boys [+see also:
film review
interview: Bertrand Mandico
film profile
, in the 32nd International Critics’ Week at the Venice Film Festival. Cineuropa had an extensive chat with the French auteur about provocation, gender issues and his multiple influences.

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Cineuropa: How was the experience of shooting your first feature?
Bertrand Mandico:
I was used to it being like a sprint, and I had to learn to approach it like a marathon runner. But of course, all the experience I have been able to accumulate as I’ve made my short and medium-length films helped me to tackle my feature debut and all its challenges without panicking (too much) or feeling frustrated.

Above all, the feature-length format is all about the pleasure of being able to work intensively with your actresses and actors. I was lucky enough to be able to film with some extraordinary actresses, and weave a dense and gripping story with them… But the difficulty, at least with my method, is creating a complete and complex soundtrack for a very long format, as I don’t record the sound while shooting.

Why did you decide to focus on gender issues?
I wanted to offer actresses roles they never get offered – those of violent, charming, attractive, infuriating, ambiguous boys. I think actors, and especially actresses, should be given the chance to play characters of the opposite sex more often, without it being spelled out in the screenplay – just for the sheer joy of the role and the acting. I hate boundaries, but I like smugglers, men and women who gleefully break through barriers without worrying about whether they belong to a certain group.

Is a hedonists’ island really the right place to reform teenagers?
I don’t believe in the “benefits” of punishment. My primary source of inspiration for the island was Pinocchio – the island where pleasure-seeking children are transformed into donkeys – as well as Circe’s island in the Odyssey, where men who overindulged in drugs and various other pleasures are turned into pigs by Circe.

And so I imagined an island full of (sometimes cruel) pleasures, but I steered clear of the idea of punitive transformations. In my story, transformation causes confusion, and it opens up new perspectives. As a teenager, I used to dream of going to an island in a constant state of metamorphosis, where everyone could change sex every six months…

Do you enjoy pushing the boundaries of the petty bourgeoisie through provocation?
I don’t get the feeling I’m provoking, but rather just questioning the viewer, nudging the cursors of the movie projector in unconventional directions. First and foremost, I’m trying to fulfil my desires as a viewer by creating a hybrid adventure story with elements of confusion, eroticism and esotericism.

I don’t much like the idea of moral cinema that is cynical or teaches lessons. My characters are romantic, ambiguous, sensitive and cruel. They have adventures on the stormy seas. This freedom in the tone, which sometimes makes things surreal, may perhaps come as a shock to certain people, but as Buñuel said, “Every day, a scriptwriter must kill his father, rape his mother and betray his country.”

One of the clearest influences on your film seems to be Borowczyk’s Goto, Island of Love. Who else inspired you the most in this film? 
When I discovered Borowczyk and his films, it was impossible for me to see Goto, Island of Love, as it was nowhere to be found, even on video. And so I dreamed up images revolving around the title. And what I imagined bore a strong resemblance to The Wild Boys

I have myriad influences, but my core desire was to make an unlikely hybrid between a Robinson Crusoe-style adventure à la Jules Vernes and William Burroughs. I was also thinking of the paintings of Henry Darger. But also, from a purely cinematic point of view, there was a whole kaleidoscope of films that fuelled my fire on this movie: Buñuel’s The Young One, Peter Brook’s Lord of the Flies, Mackendrick’s A High Wind in Jamaica, Suzuki’s Fighting Elegy, Toshio Okuxaki’s Naked Pursuit, Fassbinder’s Querelle, Kenton’s Island of Lost Souls, von Sternberg’s The Saga of Anatahan, Koundouros’ Young Aphrodites, Genet’s A Song of Love, Wakamatsu’s Gewalt! Gewalt: shojo geba-geba, Imamura’s Profound Desires of the Gods, Schrader’s Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters and Carpenter’s The Fog… I took a wee dram from each of these films to get me intoxicated during the shoot, which then enabled me to find my own voice.

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(Translated from French)

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