By Jake Watt
3rd March 2019

At the beginning of the 20th century, Tanguy (Anaël Snoek), Jean-Louis (Vimala Pons), Hubert (Diane Rouxel), Romuald (Pauline Lorillard) and Sloane (Mathilde Warnier) are five extremely horny boys on the island of La Réunion. Wearing scary papier-mâché rictus masks, they perform 'Macbeth' before sexually assaulting their literature teacher, accidentally (but without much regret) causing her death while supposedly under the influence of a bejeweled, androgynous entity named Trevor.

Consequently, their parents call upon the services of a mysterious Dutch ship captain called, uh, The Captain (Sam Louwyck), who claims to be able to tame even the most uncivilised of young men via a combination of hard labour on his vessel and a diet of gross-looking hairy fruit. On the journey, the gruff tattooed man uses a bizarre S&M system of ropes and pulleys to keep the boys tied up, making them essentially part of the ship’s mechanism.


The rest of the film chronicles their journey to a cruel and strange world, encapsulated in the mysterious island of dangers and pleasures to which the captain takes them. The island has luxuriant vegetation and bewitching powers that have unexpected effects on the boys. Elina Löwensohn (in her second surreal sexual genre mash-up in as many years after ‘Let the Corpses Tan’) pops up as a mysterious, panama hat-wearing Dr. Moreau-alike named Séverin(e), as do many shots of prosthetic dongs. Many, many shots...

‘The Wild Boys’ is too weird to really be able to classify. It's structure and central conflict is more or less a hybrid of the rebellious coming-of-age story and the sea adventure, with a little ‘Lord of the Flies’ and Randal Kleiser’s ‘The Blue Lagoon’ dropped in. The film also uses a layered voiceover, similar to a Terrence Malick film. However, there don’t seem to be many other real points of comparison for a film featuring genderfluid characters dreamily having sex with sentient jungle plants, reverse 'Evil Dead'-style, including a bush with womanly legs and trees bearing penis-shaped fruit that spurt milky white goo.

Elina Löwensohn (in her second surreal sexual genre mash-up in as many years after ‘Let the Corpses Tan’) pops up as a mysterious, panama hat-wearing Dr. Moreau-alike named Séverin(e) as do many shots of prosthetic dongs. Many, many shots…

Partly shot on the island of Réunion in the Indian Ocean, and therefore in real tropical forest settings, director Bertrand Mandico contrives to make you think that he’s actually created this environment on a studio set. Beautifully designed by Astrid Tonnellier and shot by Pascale Granel on 16mm, most of the film is in hazy black and white, which is interrupted by occasional bursts of colour, a shift that only occasionally seems connected directly with hallucination or dream. Coupled with this conscious throwback aesthetic, which could be compared to the films of Guy Maddin, is the striking use of superimposition and rear projection, exaggerating and distorting any sense of “reality” past all breaking points. 'The Wild Boys' is a film of pure artifice. All the actresses, in fact, look perfectly like boys and for the most part, we forget that we’re watching women. This conceptual trick drives the film, and consistently tricks our perceptions.

Extreme weirdness aside, ‘The Wild Boys’ has superb acting, a tight and well-crafted script, an original mix of production techniques, excellent photography and sound, and sensitive, insightful direction. It is an entirely original film debut from Mandico, and will especially appeal to those with an interest in gender-bending and fluidity, implied or depicted queerness and sociology.

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