The International Film Festival Rotterdam presented the European premiere of German director Nicolette Krebitz' new film 'Wild', which she introduced to the audience as "potentially morally shocking, but don't worry, we can talk about it".
'Wild' follows a young woman, Ania, whose lonely office-screen-sleep life is ruptured when she finds herself confronted with a wolf in the local park. Staring into its wild eyes, her vague discontent and its civilization gain focus, and she starts radically, instinctively changing her life.
Without spoiling too much, what follows is an intensely imagined story of transgression and liberation that progressively feralizes her, making her break away from the artificiality of human society while bringing her closer to a state of sensual wildness. By contrast, the character of Ania's alpha male boss seems just as caged as she is, but he hasn't found a way out except through alcohol abuse. A question the film ends up posing is to what extent liberation is possible in today's society, when, needless to say, Ania's behavior creates disturbance all around.
As Krebitz explained at the after-screening Q&A, for her the story centres around the theme of control.
Becoming wild for me doesn't imply losing your humanity. It has more to do with overcoming our fear of losing control, of letting go. This is something we all need to confront - surely not in the way Ania did, though I do think we need a more powerful break than just a wild night clubbing.
This recalls Krebitz' earlier film 'Das Herz ist ein dunkler Wald' (2007), which explored transgression in the relationship of a middle class couple - with a wild party providing the climax.
In 'Wild', however, the central relationship is with a ferocious animal. The return of the wolf in Europe in recent years has received much attention: they have been roaming Eastern Germany again, and are moving west. There have even been sightings in the Low Countries, where the ensuing media hysterics illustrated the current need for some element of undomesticated otherness, even if only on a blurry wild cam.
The film's premise also recalls George Monbiot's recent book 'Feral' and its diagnosis of our ecological boredom. Monbiot advocated rewilding, especially through reintroducing large predators like wolves (still not reintroduced in the British Isles). More symbolically, his plea was for a rewilding of human life - what he described in Orwellian style as our "small and shuffling life" in a technocratic world where consumerism sustains the illusion of freedom.
...rewilding of the land permits, if we choose, a partial rewilding of our own lives. It allows us to step into a world that is not controlled and regulated, to imagine ourselves back into the rawer life from which we came...
Which is what happens in 'Wild', down to the emphasis on an uncontrolled world. However, apart from its ecologically realistic context, the film takes human rewilding in a very different direction. Ania's project takes place mostly in an empty apartment - an increasingly uncomfortable and even cruel confinement of the very wildness she is after.
Krebitz related how the story of 'Wild' came to her in a recurring dream:
I was running and had the feeling of being chased, and when I turned around I stood facing a wolf. It was strange to me because I didn't really have any connection with wolves.
Indeed, the wolf in 'Wild' is better viewed as a Freudian image of repressed desire than as a genuine engagement with natural wilderness. Ultimately, the film is concerned with questions of female identity and sexual transgression, for example in its theme of shifting roles of predator and prey, with Ania experimenting with the role of hunter, a traditionally male domain.
The film's open ending could indicate either Ania's acceptance of having reached a point of no return, or a state of satiety of her wild adventure. While the former would be the more disconcerting, Krebitz seemed to hint at the latter interpretation:
Being human means that at any point she can say stop.
Perhaps that's the undecidedness at the heart of this film: while it pushes its protagonist to extremes of wild behavior, involving lots of bodily functions, there remains something inconsequential about it - an experiment which will be over after a shower and hot milk.
By that time the wolf is long gone.