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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
Moving and transforming - a beautiful use of opposites and differences
Confronting and acknowledging other sexualities often stems either from an intimate awareness of other orientations on one hand, or a determined political correctness on the other. Wild side, a film of haunting images and an unusual love triangle, opts for the former.
As the film opens, the camera pans slowly over a naked body of someone asleep. The gaze is quite sensual, but the figure fairly androgynous. The curve of a bosom appears, reassuringly female, and then we see the penis of the sleeping form a few moments later. Cut to a Parisienne bar where an audience of transsexuals listen enraptured to the almost operatic quality of a singer lamenting a dead lover ("I Fell in Love with a Dead Boy"), the song ending with the question, "Was he a boy or a girl?" Wild side proceeds to alternate between scenes of exquisite beauty, such as a figure running through a lush field - to scenes of tawdry sexuality, like a quick blow-job in a red light area. We meet Stephanie, a transsexual who has been reduced to turning tricks as a prostitute. The flashbacks show her as a young boy, Pierre. As the story develops, we see her leaving Paris to care for her terminally ill mother, together with her new Russian boyfriend Mikhail. They are soon joined by her friend Djamel, a bisexual male who has also been working as a prostitute in Paris.
Wild side is beautifully photographed. The French countryside and imaginative camera angles are complemented by excellent and typically unpretentious French acting which draws a clear distinction between the intimacy of lovers and the functionality of the paid sex, even when conducted with as much courtesy as the situation (and clients) allows. But it is the focus on the ordinary, gentle emotions of Stephanie and her two companions, whether to each other or their family, that helps the audience put Stephanie's trans sexuality into perspective and this is one of the not inconsiderable achievements of the film. We see her primarily as a person and, most importantly, as a woman. There is never anywhere the feeling that 'she' is really 'he' - and it is no effort of political correctness, simply a fact. Stephanie is a woman, emotionally to her mother (who has to come to terms with the change), and also in sharp contrast to the two men (Mikhail and Djamel) in her life. She is a woman who used to be a boy and she still has a penis (which she uses sometimes). Perhaps the recognition of Stephanie being 'she' is nowhere more forcefully apparent than in a fairly crude scene where a voyeur, paying Stephanie to perform sex with Mikhail, tells Mikhail to "f*ck *her*" and then to "jack her off" while he's doing so.
Ultimately, we realise the world of tenderness between Stephanie and her mother, and between her and her lovers, is one that a casual view of her persona would have missed. We are easily obsessed by someone's sexuality when it is not the same as our own - and to the extent that it is hard to see beyond it. In the early days of homophobic social interaction, gay people are simply seen by heterosexuals as people who have sex with persons of the same gender - that image is forefront, even though the same heterosexuals would never dream of continually thinking when meeting a new straight acquaintance, "this is a person who has sex with people of the opposite gender"! With Stephanie, the outward film-flam is two-fold - firstly she is transsexual, and that is difficult to see past for anyone who has never got to know a transsexual as a friend, as another human being. Secondly, she works (or has spent time working) as a prostitute - something we would normally see tattooed on someone's forehead immediately that fact was known. Both these things have affected her life, but they are not the most central thing to her character. They are her 'wild side' perhaps, but one which - at least to her mother, for instance, is of little consequence.
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