Patrick Gamble

IndieLisboa 2018: The Wild Boys review

★★★★☆

The debut feature from provocative French filmmaker Bertrand Mandico is a film of unadulterated artifice. An exhilarating and highly surreal tale of gender-warfare, The Wild Boys is a maximalist work of paperback eroticism that almost defies categorisation; a film that marries cinematic heritage with progressive ideas to create a genre and gender-bending work of intoxicating expressionism.

The film follows five adolescent boys from respectable families, who are enamoured with the occult – principally a demon apparition named ‘Trevor’ that inspires them to commit savage, sexually motivated crimes. But one day, during a performance of Macbeth, put on for their teacher, things take a turn for the worse when one of the scenes ends up becoming a collective rape; resulting in the teacher’s death. However, instead of being yet another problematic, gratuitous rape scene, there’s a twist, as these five boys are all played by young female actors (Vimala Pons, Pauline Lorillard, Diane Rouxel, Anaël Snoek and Mathilde Warnier), with Mandico clearly fascinated by the role gender plays in defining sexual violence.

Despite their best efforts to avoid persecution, the boys are found guilty of murder, but instead of being sent to reform school or borstal, their distraught parents press-gang them into the care of a Dutch sea-captain (Sam Louwyck), who promises to eradicate their wild tendencies. He takes them onboard his dilapidated sailboat, on a mission to a forbidden island; an uncharted Arcadia populated by a veritable bouquet of phallic flora and fauna whose inviting plant life and sperm like sap initially sate the boys’ uncontrollable appetites.

On the island Mandico’s erotic universe blossoms into an abstract, almost surreal universe, one clearly influenced by Valerian Borowczyk’s Goto, Island of Love (1969), and countless silent films and antiquated erotica from cinema’s formative years. This regurgitation of the past never feels trite, thanks primarily to cinematographer, Pascale Granel, who oscillates seamlessly between textured black-and-white photography and dreamlike colour sequences to give the film its rich mysteriousness and poetic beauty. The result, is a kind of cinematic delirium; an aesthetic hallucinogen that emphasising the bizarreness of this tale even further, whilst also creating a psychedelic atmosphere that succeeds in leaving the audience feeling buoyant, rather than lost in a sea of cinematic footnotes.

The island initially seems like a paradise, but as the hours pass the boys slowly undergo a gender metamorphosis, with their cocks falling off and breasts forming on their chests. Mandico seems to be raising the question of what might happen if children weren’t straitjacketed into gender roles in early adolescence, revealing how gender, as a social construct, enforces the concept of male entitlement to the attention, and ultimately bodies of women. A conspicuous example of political cinema made into art, The Wild Boys has more ideas in its 110 minute runtime than most filmmakers have in their entire oeuvres; jumping gleefully into the murky waters of gender politics and taking great delight in the overflowing bounty of cinephilic pleasures and vulgar perversities that spurt onto the screen.

Patrick Gamble | @PatrickJGamble