The Wild Boys

 

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Unquestionable originality in a striking fable that lacks a message.

 
Wild Boys, The
  

Any filmgoer seeking an idiosyncratic vision need look no further than this feature debut from France written and directed by Bertrand Mandico. Filmed largely on location on the island of La Réunion, it tells a myth-like tale about five wild youths who at the outset turn on their teacher and rape her. In order to defend them, she is portrayed as a perverse and corrupting woman but, even so, the rich parents of the accused boys decide that their offspring have to be tamed. Consequently, a Dutch captain is paid to take them on a sea voyage for two months since he claims that this will have the desired result. In the event, however the ship puts in at a strange island where the rest of the story plays out.

 

This being a tale of boys capable of depravity due to something inborn, the narrative is not without echoes of the classic novel Lord of the Flies and that encourages one to assume that Mandico's extraordinary film, shot mainly in black and white but with bold colour passages inserted from time to time, will, as with Golding's fable, have something clear-cut to say. But any such hopes are disappointed and ultimately the strangeness of the film seems to exist for its own sake. At one extreme there will be viewers who readily accept this, while for others the comment by one character who declares "I don't know what to think of all this" will sum up the proceedings all too well.

 

If I am in the middle myself, that is largely because Mandico's vision, whatever its shortcomings, is buoyed up by a splendid use of music on the soundtrack. That is part of the film's originality - and original it truly is even if at odd moments one thinks of Fassbinder's Querelle, of Buñuel and of the experimental work of Guy Maddin. What is central is a sense of eroticism that relishes the polymorphous perverse. All of the boys are played - and convincingly so - by actresses and that is totally relevant rather than a gimmick. The captain (Sam Louwyck) is working in conjunction with a doctor (Elina Löwensohn) who lives on the island and has discovered that eating its fruits brings about a sex change: the doctor arrived there as a man but is now a woman. Acceptance or rejection of this transformation by the male characters becomes a central element and, despite the echoes of other filmmakers (several critics have also mentioned Walerian Borowczyk and his film La bête), this results in a film that is one of a kind. The movie may provide unusual opportunities for makers of prosthetic penises but the fantastical tale doesn't seem to lead anywhere. How much of a limitation that is will be a matter of personal opinion, but at the very least the film's novelty value cannot be denied.

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Cast: Anaël Snoek, Sam Louwyck, Elina Löwensohn, Vimala Pons, Diane Rouxel, Pauline Lorillard, Mathilde Warnier, Nathalie Richard, Margaux Fabre, and the voice of Lola Créton.

 

Dir Bertrand Mandico, Pro Emmanuel Chaumet, Screenplay Bertrand Mandico, Ph Pascale Granel, Art Dir Astrid Tonnellier, Ed Laure Saint Marc, Music Pierre Desprats and Hekla Magnusdottir, Costumes Sarah Topalian.

 

Fresnoy/studio national des arts contemporains/CNC/Cinéventure/Cinémage 10-ICA Cinema.
110 mins. France. 2017. Rel: 11 May 2018. No Cert.