AFI European Union Film Showcase Review: ‘Wild’

Writer-director Nicolette Krebitz’s “Wild”’s opening passages follow an alienated young German woman, Ania (Lilith Stangenberg), as she glides through her empty, alienated life—her joyless Skype chats with her sister, her boring commute, her job working for an asshole boss (Georg Friedrich). She doesn’t talk much; she seems distant, like she’s not an active participant in her own life. That all changes one day when she happens upon a wolf in a small city park. She is clearly transfixed by the creature, which leaves a profound impression on her. Soon enough she contrives to capture the animal and bring it back to her apartment where they proceed to develop any incredibly intimate relationship.

Or, to put it bluntly, “Wild” is a movie about a woman falling in love with a wolf.

Resisting easy psychological explanations or grand unifying symbols, Krebitz’s film is genuinely disturbing, creepily erotic, and, for weird cinema aficionados, an utter delight, filled with scene after scene of I-can’t-believe-they-went-there strangeness, including wolf-provided cunnilingus and post-coital defecation on top of a desk. These transgressions, while shocking, are not merely gratuitous but are integrated into the structure of the film. With each new taboo Ania breaks, there is a sense not of disgust but of liberation.

While Krebitz’s artistic project could perhaps be reduced to a simplistic abstraction—a woman getting in touch with her “wild” side—the film succeeds by fully committing to the reality of its premise, having its lead actress interact very closely with a real wolf. Any metaphorical baggage falls away when we’re confronted with images of Stangenberg face to face with the wolf. In these scenes, the film feels legitimately wild and at times even dangerous.

This is due in no small part to Stangenberg’s passionately committed performance. Her eyes blaze with an intense ferality that bespeaks a disarmingly profound connection with the wolf. The word “fearless” is thrown around much too liberally when describing actors, but here it’s appropriate. How else to describe a performance that calls for a wolf to stuff its muzzle in your crotch? Stangenberg excels by committing to the bizarreness on her own terms. Her face never betrays shock or ain’t-I-a-stinker insouciance; rather her face always conveys the sense that she is doing this all purely for her own fulfillment.

Despite its gonzo charms, “Wild” never quite transcends the level of fascinating curio. Its scope is a bit too limited, its sense of purpose a tad too diffuse. Astounding as it often is, the film, never seems particularly interested in mere provocation; rather, it seems to exist purely for its own sake. Krebitz, like her protagonist, gives in to her wildest impulses, free of self-consciousness or anxiety about how others might respond. If the results are not always emotionally or intellectually scrutable, they are compelling nonetheless.

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