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Wild Side

Sexual Politics

Extraordinary lives in Wild Side

The camera lingers on the back, we see the cleavage between the buttocks, but we don’t know if this is a man or a woman. From another angle, we see the swelling of a breast. The camera jumps to the crook of an arm, the neck, a lifted thigh and cock. This is Stephanie’s body, and Stephanie is a transsexual.

She works as a prostitute, parading nightly for slowly passing cars. Her friend Jamel also pulls tricks, with both men and women. They live and sleep with Mikhail, an illegal Russian immigrant, who washes dishes in a restaurant. And they love each other.

The film will unnerve sexual conservatives, but its point is simple. These people have extraordinary lives – and a very ordinary need for love and reassurance. Mikhail can hardly bear his separation from his family. Stephanie, struggling with parental expectations of her as a son, nurses her sick mother and, like a loving daughter, feeds and washes her. Jamel, the youngest, is caring and reassuring but, estranged from his family, cannot bear to sleep alone.

Wild Side is a milestone in humanist cinema. Shot by Agnès Godard (of Beau Travail fame), its sparse beauty lingers in the mind.

Malcolm Lewis

New Internationalist issue 378 magazine cover This article is from the May 2005 issue of New Internationalist.
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