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radical but a bit naive
on 4 May 2014
Wild Side is described as "Jules et Jim for the new millenium" on the box, a tagline that embraces its ménage-a-trois and its updated radicalism, in that the three characters seem to be all in a sexual relationship, which goes further than Truffaut. The blending of fairy-tale with a challenge to conventional morality is very like the earlier film, and Lifshitz even has his heroes rolling together down a hillside which is a variant on a similar moment in Truffaut's film ... Theoretically there is no need for rent boys at stations to be ready with knives, for instance, as the stereotyped view would have it, or for masculine men not to be involved with a transsexual and another manly boy - why shouldn't they be, really? However it comes across as more fantasy-led than intended and not very convincing, and in this respect falls far short of Truffaut's film, as well as lacking the earlier director's joie de vivre and sense of substance. The question of whether it is a good thing to earn money by prostitution is barely addressed in the director's mind, you feel, as if this is a natural long-term option in life. It could be that he wants to create complete empathy, but the effect is of not probing enough into the real nature of things.
On the plus side, Stéphanie Michelini, a real-life transsexual, is very good, as are the equally natural performances of Edouard Nikitine as a Russian illegal immigrant working in a restaurant, and Yasmine Belmadi as the rent boy of Arab origin. You would expect the whole thing to be sleazier, but as I say this may be missing at the cost of a certain realism. The sense of the life of a hustler is much better pulled off by Paul Morrissey in his trilogy, where the portrayals allowed you to see Joe Dallesandro's character as a bit of a layabout and still like him in spite of his obvious flaws. This film doesn't have nearly as much life in it, as the script is not good enough to get under the surface.