Director: Sébastien Lifshitz
Starring: Stéphanie Michelini, Yasmine Belmadi, Edouard Nikitine
Language: French, English, Russian
Duration: 93 min.
A transsexual who survives prostituting herself in Paris, returns with her two male lovers in tow, to her family home in the countryside to look after her dying mother.
Wild Side is a French film directed by Sébastien Lifshitz that borrows its title from the Lou Reed song. It premiered in competition at the 2004 Berlin International Film Festival, winning the Teddy Award for best LGBT film and the Manfred Salzgeber Prize given to the film that broadens the boundaries of cinema.
A beautifully photographed and directed unconventional love story that focuses on Stéphanie (Stéphanie Michelini), a Parisian transsexual who works the infamous Bois de Boulogne at night, as she is summoned to her childhood home in the countryside to care for dying mother. She's in a complicated but happy triangle relationship with two men, Mikhail (Edouard Nikitine), an ex-soldier who fled Russia and now works in a restaurant, and Jamal (Yasmine Belmadi) a French-Egyptian hustler who turns tricks in various train stations.
The film repeatedly cuts back and forth between timelines and characters, exploring in detail the lives of each of the three individuals, all of whom have troubled pasts and not so certain futures, but are for the moment content in the present. Three kindred spirits who fill the needs for love, friendship and family in each others' difficult lives. A tricky thing to portray convincingly but Lifshitz manages to do so in an honest and believable manner.
The cinematography here is stunning, handled by Agnès Godard who is famous for working with Claire Denis. She perfectly captures the contrasts between the urban and rural landscapes, and beautifully develops the correct atmosphere required by Lifshitz' emotional screenplay. At the heart of the film is Michelini's wonderful performance, a non-professional actress who brings just the right quiet and natural demeanor to the role while also completely captivating the screen when called for. The film also opens with a lovely performance from the otherworldly Antony Hegarty that helps set the overall tone.
The only problem is, while this is a moving character and relationship study, there isn't enough of a story to tie it all together. In the end all we get is a brief slice of life with nothing resolved. At least it is a truthful and fascinating one.
— Bonjour Tristesse