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In Paris, the thirty-two years old travesty Stéphanie a.k.a. Pierre is a streetwalker that lives with the Egyptian gay hustler Djamel and the Russian gay Mikhail that works in a restaurant. When the hospital where her mother Liliane is terminal calls her, she travels with her two lovers to the countryside to look after her dying mother. While at home, she recalls her childhood and how she met Djamel and Mikhail. Written by
Claudio Carvalho, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Sébastien Lifshitz ('Come Undone', 'The Crossing') is one of the more sensitive directors to arrive on the scene in some time. He molds stories about the periphery of mankind and creates deeply human dramas without the clutter and noise that often dampen the effect of intense emotional experiences. He is intelligent, a fine writer and observer and a man unafraid to take chances: all but two of the actors in WILD SIDE are amateurs with no experience in front of the camera and from these neophytes he extracts brilliant performances. He is an artist to watch.
Stéphanie (Stéphanie Michelini) is a transsexual who makes her living through prostitution on the streets of Paris. She is a gentle, soft-spoken, tender person who is making her way in life as the being she has selected to present. She meets Djamel (Yasmine Belmadi) a handsome bisexual North African young man who likewise makes his living turning tricks in the subways and streets of Paris, another person estranged from his family as is Stéphanie. Yet another young man Mikhail (Edouard Nikitine) estranged from his family in Russia meets Stéphanie and falls in love with her. The three outsiders from a true ménage a trois, all three genetically males, all three in need of love and belonging and capable of sharing love equally within the trio. When Stéphanie learns her estranged mother (Josiane Stoléru) is critically ill, she travels to her rural French neighborhood of her youth together with Mikhail and Djamel and it is this confrontation with her past and the way she pieces her life together with the love of Mikhail and Djamel that creates the beauty of this film.
Though there are innumerable reasons for recommending this film the main one remains the manner in which Lifshitz has taken a script written with his long-term associate and fellow professor at La Fémis (Paris) Stéphane Bouquet about a marginalized portion of society and crafted one of the more touching love stories that needs and receives no apologies. Stéphanie (the actress is a transsexual in real life and has never acted before) is presented not as an oddity but as just a human being for whom life has dealt some challenges. We see her in the opening scenes fully nude with the lovely body of a female that happens to also have male genitalia. The isolation of Stéphanie's life is shown from the beginning in a scene where a group of transsexuals listen tearfully as a singer (Antony Hegarty) sings a tender ballad 'I fell in love with a beautiful dead boy...but was he a girl or a boy?'. This quiet manner pervades the film.
Mikhail is likewise played by an unknown inexperienced actor and plumbs the depths of his lonely Russian émigré with gently nuanced humility. Djamel and Stephanie's mother are played by actors with whom Lifshitz has worked before and their superlative work helps coax the best performances from the neophytes. The breathtaking cinematography is by Agnès Godard, a genius for creating atmosphere and mood, equally successful in the cramped environs where the sex for money acts are performed as well as in the beauty of the Parisian streets and the French rural countryside. The subtle music score by Jocelyn Pook is variations by a string quartet and harp and very well composed. The DVD gratefully includes and interview with Lifshitz and for once the information shared is extremely beneficial to the enjoyment of the film.
Because audiences in general have difficulty with trans/homosexual love scenes this film will probably never receive the recognition it deserves. But for those who long for the power of truly fine independent films, this film is as fine as they come - in story, in direction, in acting, in cinematography and, most important, in honesty. It is a jewel of a movie. Highly Recommended. Grady Harp
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