It’s not easy to describe the wonderfully transgressive experience that is The Wild Boys. Sex and violence linger everywhere, be it on a ship full of masculine power plays or a jungle of phalluses begging to be sucked. With his feature debut, Bertrand Mandico has created a work of art that’s as full of angst as it is horny, a queer fever dream that’s as much a nightmare as it is an erotic fantasy.
We meet its cast of wealthy adolescent boys as they indulge in an afternoon of theatrics and alcohol with their teacher. Mandico never allows his audience to think this might be a light romp, with a menacing score looming and the teens in a violent trance, masked and moving like they came straight out of A Clockwork Orange. After raping and murdering the teacher they claimed to love, the boys are exiled to a ship with the Captain, who claims he can transform any violent boy into a civilized and docile being.
The gimmick of The Wild Boys is that these teenagers are played by actresses: Pauline Lorillard, Vimala Pons, Diane Rouxel, Mathilde Warnier, and Anaël Snoek. Each is marvelous in her own way, bringing a distinct personality to characters who could have been the blank slates that populate many a young adult novel. It’s a fascinating casting decision that adds a new layer to exploring the misogyny inherently built into entitled young men, allowing women to help shape and interpret what this loathing of the feminine looks like.
When they arrive on an island of pleasures (which seems at first an odd place to take young men for punishment), their male bodies begin to transform as the landscape around them tempts them to stay and embrace the feminine. The way this physical shift influences the impulses and behaviors of these young men then becomes the driving force of the film, full of clashes of ego, intense arousal, and melancholy reflection.
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Every beat of Mandico’s film begs for a discussion, whether it’s about gender performance and fluidity or about the collection of influences that coalesced to create this bizarre gem. One could easily cite the silent cinema-inspired oddities of Guy Maddin and the violent and erotic fever dreams of Kenneth Anger when describing The Wild Boys, but the decadent fantasia of Derek Jarman and the performative masculinity of Jean Genet are just as essential. The list goes on and on, but not once does Wild Boys feel like a patchwork of styles or themes.
Shot in Super16, the film boasts an aesthetic that exists in a mostly colorless landscape, with sets and effects that seem like they shouldn’t exist in this time and space. Everything appears borrowed from a classic adventure film, minus the more pornographic elements that lie in the absurd island that Mandico has created. Occasionally puncturing this nostalgic wonder are scenes overflowing with color — hallucinations or heightened realities that appear prompted by the gods or unchecked emotion.
With The Wild Boys, Bertrand Mandico has made one of the most unabashedly indulgent films of the 21st Century, and the juvenile eroticism and thematic density he brings to the table are not for everyone. But what viewer hasn't fantasized about an orgy on a beach, complete with feathers falling, waves crashing, bodies grinding, and Nina Hagen’s unique vocals guiding the mood?
The Wild Boys. Starring Pauline Lorillard, Vimala Pons, and Diane Rouxel. Directed by Bertrand Mandico. 110 minutes. Not rated. 11:30 p.m. Friday, September 14, and Saturday, September 15, at O Cinema Wynwood, 90 NW 29th St., Miami; o-cinema.org. Tickets cost $11. The September 14 screening will also include a performance by Ded Cooter, co-presented by Flaming Classics.