Irish Film Institute -Wild Side

Wild Side

Director: Agnes Godard

France| 2004. English subtitles. Colour. Anamorphic. Dolby digital stereo. 94 min.

Stephanie (Stephanie Michelini), a 32-year-old transsexual prostitute, shares her life with her lovers Mikhail (Edouard Nikitine), an illegal Russian immigrant and former soldier, and Jamel (Yasmine Belmadi), a French Arab who, like Stephanie, sometimes turns tricks to make ends meet. Although in some ways at ease in their metropolitan environment, all are outsiders who harbour an emptiness the city is unable to satisfy. Stephanie is called back to the rural childhood home she fled some 15 years previously to care for her dying mother. Accompanied by Mikhail (and in time Jamel), her return to the beautiful but quiet and empty countryside prompts a flood of memories, some happy, others painful, of her childhood as a boy.
Restrained, sparse and beautifully shot in wide-screen by Agnes Godard, Wild Side is moving without ever being sentimental. Flitting between the present, near and distant past, director Sebastien Lifshitz builds a compelling, mosaiclike portrait of the inner lives of his characters, masterfully intercutting images of the detritus of the darker sides of their lives with more intimate and deeply poignant episodes. As in his previous films (such as Les terres froides and Presque rien/Almost Nothing), Lifshitz questions and rethinks male identity, dealing with characters who live outside the mainstream in an unspectacular and sympathetic way. The film opens with the camera frankly and lovingly charting the Venus-like beauty of Stephanie’s naked body. Lifshitz never wants her anatomical difference to be either a surprise or an issue for the audience. Like her and her lovers’ fragile past, it is just part of who she is.

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