Wild Side

Named after "Walk on the Wild Side," Lou Reed's classic song about New York City's fringe dwellers, French director Sebastien Lifshitz's third feature is a sensitive, nonexploitative portrayal of a striking Parisian transsexual prostitute who must confront her troubled present and haunted past when her mother falls seriously ill. After getting the call that...read more

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Reviewed by Ken Fox
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Named after "Walk on the Wild Side," Lou Reed's classic song about New York City's fringe dwellers, French director Sebastien Lifshitz's third feature is a sensitive, nonexploitative portrayal of a striking Parisian transsexual prostitute who must confront her troubled present and haunted past when her mother falls seriously ill. After getting the call that her mother (Josiane Stoleru) has been rushed to the hospital, 32-year-old Stephanie (Stephanie Michelini) returns to the small farmhouse she left years ago, when she was a boy of 15 named Pierre. She hasn't been back since, and while her mother has made peace with Stephanie's gender switch, she still misses "Pierre." Stephanie's father and beloved sister were killed when Pierre was just a child, and Stephanie is all her mother has left. Stephanie is accompanied by her handsome lover, Mikhail (Edouard Nikitine), a homesick Russian emigre who speaks English but virtually no French. Despite the language barrier, he still manages to communicate well enough with Stephanie and Jamel (Yasmine Belmadi), the young North African hustler who shares their apartment and their bed. Mikhail helps care for Stephanie's mother when she returns from the hospital and Jamel soon joins them, but even the presence of her lovers can't stave of the specters of her past. Evincing the same daring as his excellent feature debut, COME UNDONE (2000), Lifshitz employs a complex narrative structure to tell the story of these marginalized people who use their unconventional relationship to replace absent family members and heal emotional wounds. Lifshitz tells their tale as two alternating story lines: The first follows Stephanie, Mikhail and Jamel as they attend to the dying mother; the second, which unfolds in reverse chronology, details their lives in Paris. As Stephanie's death watch nears its inevitable conclusion, the alternating story thread shows us Mikhail's sad arrival in Paris, and ultimately the disturbing moment he first meets Stephanie. Lifshitz rewrites the rules to suit the needs of his narrative — there are occasional flashbacks to Pierre's childhood — and it's gratifying that he has enough confidence in his audience's intelligence to assume that they'll be able to follow along. Stony and statuesque, Michelini is an excellent casting choice: Her impassive face and dispassionate voice serve as a carefully constructed protective mask that hides her pain, and which she rarely lets slip.

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  • Released: 2004
  • Rating: NR
  • Review: Named after "Walk on the Wild Side," Lou Reed's classic song about New York City's fringe dwellers, French director Sebastien Lifshitz's third feature is a sensitive, nonexploitative portrayal of a striking Parisian transsexual prostitute who must confront… (more)

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