Wild Boys ★★★★

Linking gender performativity with the performativity inherent in genre, Bertrand Mandico’s compelling feature debut Les garçons sauvages is a restorative riff on boys’ adventure tales. Starting with a series of violent acts, including a bukkake gang rape, the film initially adopts an alienating stance, but this is revealed to be a knowing calculation. As Mandico gradually strips away his young cast’s macho posturing and prosthetic dicks, they emerge as individuals and what initially seems to be thematic tokenism deepens into something that feels literally lived in and affecting. Upending stories like Treasure Island and The Lord of Flies and invoking an array of cult filmmakers like Ruiz, Maddin, and Fassbender, this functions rather similarly to Gomes’ Tabu, but interrogates masculinity instead of colonialism. By turns dreamy, affecting, and intensely erotic, Mandico’s effort is still something less than an unqualified triumph, if only because it comes up short on the stylistic terms that it initially seems to prize above all. The film is not particularly convincing in its half-assed appropriation of silent film aesthetics, and at times its queer fantasia plays like a high school performance of a lost Genet play. Still, it has a naively smutty and amateurish charm that sells some of its technical shortcomings and is helped considerably by the casting as the inimitable, campy Elina Löwensohn (she even sings the theme song!). Overall, much richer than it first appears.