While I am super-keen on avoiding plot-spoilers, The Wild Boys came with a ready-made alert in the Filmhouse brochure. It seemed, from a cursory internet search, the brochure blurb was the taken directly from the press-release, which made it plain that the adolescent eponymous boys were played by actresses. Or, as I prefer to say, female actors.
Coupled with the fact that the film was screened as part of Filmhouse’s Over the Rainbow programme, it was obvious this was a film about gender-queer issues and boundary-crossing themes. I didn’t need to read any reviews to guess what was going to happen at the end. I wasn’t disappointed… at least, not with my prediction.
Five young acting students commit a brutal crime and are punished in the most bizarre and surreal way by being sent on a sea voyage with a barbaric and hedonistic Captain (Sam Louwyck.) When they arrive at a weird island, with plant-life that is a bit too life-like, after various weird and lurid sequences, things happen to the ‘boys’ that, had it not said in the blurb that they ‘start to transform in both mind and body,’ you might not have expected. Then again, you may well.
So here’s the plot-spoiler: one by one, their (okay, prosthetic) penises drop into the sand and – wow – they have breasts! Unsurprisingly, the lads are pretty pleased with these new adornments. Apart from the character Tanguy (Anaël Snoek) who only manages to produce one breast. I could explain why, but I don’t want to completely spoil the plot. And if you want to be absolutely certain of that character’s fate, stick around until after the credits.
So, yes, the film concluded pretty-much as expected, but was I impressed? In another unusual step for me, I was accompanied by a friend. They had not read the blurb (or, if so, had not spotted the gender-bending heads-up) and was surprised to find that the ‘boys’ were played by women. Admittedly, their plastic tackle was pretty unconvincing – probably purposely-so – but their acting was finely nuanced, traversing the complexity of effeminacy versus machismo urge.
Just how convincing the ‘message’ of the film was may be harder to assess. This was a debut feature from Bertrand Mandico (better-known for short films) and while he tried to tackle some big issues surrounding toxic masculinity and gender fluidity, the film was too surreal and contradictory to make sense.
The idea that “a feminised world could stop war and conflict” – a concept introduced by the androgynous and messed-up ‘Doctor’ who welcomes the ‘boys’ to the Island – is flawed by their continued violence. Furthermore, to suggest that male violence can be arrested by a castration is a tabloid reaction. What’s not to say that this behaviour won’t be manifested in equally abhorrent female attitudes?
Mandico’s script asserting that “Future is woman” is compromised by the following line, “Future is Sorceress.” And in a concluding scene, with the wild boys, now girls, proudly displaying their new breasts (oh, please) we are told by Doctor Séverin, or Séverine (Elina Löwensohn) in a Brechtian shot spoken directly to camera, “Never be vulgar.”
Perhaps a better conclusion would be, never make a film in which androgynous yet violent boys are exported to an island where they get to drink an elixir from penis-trees that will turn them (bar one) into ‘Wild Girls’ (the final song of the eclectic sound-track.) That said, this was a sumptuous, provocative, cleverly shot and brilliantly acted film. It was also, if you allowed it to be, hilarious.
It didn’t offer answers, but left enough questions to keep me and my newly-enlightened accomplice chatting over several pints in the Filmhouse Café. Where else in Edinburgh would you have that opportunity? This is why the Filmhouse (in my opinion) is the best cinema in this city. As for the film…
The Filmhouse’s programme is available here.