Wild Side [2004]

WildSide-16/10 | 2.2.13
Wild Side

DIRECTOR: Sébastien Lifshitz | WRITERS: Stéphane Bouquet, Sébastien Lifshitz | CAST: Stéphanie Michelini, Yasmine Belmadi, Edouard Nikitine, Josiane Stoléru, Corentin Carinos | France

Sébastien Lifshitz’s Wild Side follows Stéphanie (Stéphanie Michelini), a 30-ish Parisian pre-op transexual prostitute, as she returns to the bleak northern French countryside where she grew up in order to take care of her terminally ill mother. MCDWISI EC002Through flashbacks we piece together that Stéphanie left school and her hometown 15 years before and has never looked back, but she’s now given to melancholy reflections on her past and the boy she was (her mother still calls her Pierre). She’s soon joined by her two lovers, outsiders like herself, with whom she’s created a stable — and loving — alternative family: Mikhail (Edouard Nikitine), a bisexual Russian Army deserter who is deeply troubled by his experiences in Chechnya, and Djamel (Yasmine Belmadi), a young French Arab from a grimy suburb who turns tricks in railway station toilets. Lifshitz’s depiction of this ménage à trois — Mikhail and Djamel are also involved with each other — is respectful, but cool and detached, as is the movie as a whole, and there’s a frankness to the frequent sex scenes (with johns, with each other) that is refreshingly neither lurid nor degrading: this is what these people do and we’re not asked to sit in judgment. The few sequences that might have been milked for more emotional fireworks — Mikhail wanting to hear Stéphanie speak in her male voice, Stéphanie’s unannounced visit to her schoolyard crush, now a married man with children — are underplayed to great effect, but they fail to jolt some life into the movie. Wild Side may have the laid back cool of the Lou Reed song from which it borrowed its title, but it lacks the trashy allure of Warhol’s Factory that the song celebrates; what stands out in my mind instead is Lifshitz’s controlled equanimity and Agnès Godard’s gorgeously understated and always pitch perfect cinematography.

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7 comments

  1. I was a bit underwhelmed with Wild Side. Lifshitz’s Presque Rien is one of my all time faves but I don’t think he ever reached those heights again. I’m seeing Les Invisibles in a couple of weeks so I hope he pulls out something special.

    1. Ooh! A comment! I really wanted to love Wild Side but Lifshitz just kept pulling back and pulling back. There are scenes that I wish he had let develop more — the two with Stéphanie that I mention in my review, the scene when Mikhail walks Djamel from the train to Stéphanie’s mother’s house, a few others. And I’ve got to say that the scene where Stéphanie and Mikhail meet is incredibly powerful. But I dunno. I did like Presque rien more, but even there I find his studied coolness too cool. I’ve got Plein sud (Going South) lined up and I’ll watch it sometime this week probably. I also have a copy of Adieu Gary, Yasmine Belmadi’s last movie (it opened a week after he was killed in a traffic accident). I plan to watch that sometime this week or next, too.

  2. You sound shocked! Great site. I’ll be back commenting in no time.

  3. Shocked? Just kind of surprised. I know I get some hits every day and I can see what it is that people are looking at — mostly it’s horrible movies; Homme au bain, The Dreamers, and Lie With Me are special favorites, and there are loads of hits for the awful movie Carmen because Paz Vega spends half the movie topless, the better to show off her shiny, bouncy breast augmentations — but I’m not getting any real sense of who’s looking or even if it’s people looking and not just an automated hit on a link. I’m doing this because it keeps my mind occupied and it’s fun, but getting feedback is more than welcome. (I’ve also linked to my Facebook account if anyone is interested in reaching me that way.)

  4. Yeah, it’s funny what attracts hits. One of my most popular is a brush off review of a terrible Italian film but it gets hundreds of hits (thankfully it’s slowed down now).

    I’m the same with blogging. I do it for the pleasure of it but the feedback is refreshing. And the community is pretty cool.

  5. Well, I’m not getting much sense of a community yet — aside from the movie nuts I’ve already known forever and a day — but I suppose it’ll come. Or it won’t, but that’s fine. This blog isn’t nearly in the shape it should be in — some of my reviews from before I started it in July 2012 are little more than throwaway jottings and not everything is linked the way I want it — so I’ve got lots to keep me occupied. And I’m 3 films behind. I’m very curious to see what you make of the next 3 Bresson films if you are indeed surveying his fims chronologically. I think all three are masterpieces but I may have an odd take on them; Pickpocket is probably my all-time favorite movie. Certainly it’s in my Top 10.

  6. […] a little over a week after he was killed in a traffic accident. (I was really taken with Belmadi in Wild Side which I just saw recently.) He gives a beautifully controlled performance here, too, but then all […]

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