Jean-Hugues Anglade became an arthouse cinema star of the ’80s and ’90s behind the potent one-two punch of international hits Betty Blue and La Femme Nikita. Playing men who loved hard and recklessly, the actor embodied onscreen a raw, alluring passion that he then upended, to powerful effect, portraying mad King Charles IX in writer-director Patrice Chéreau’s 1994 period epic Queen Margot.
But a decade earlier, Anglade made his big-screen breakthrough embodying another raw, reckless lover in Chéreau’s gritty, gay, mean streets drama L’homme blessé, or The Wounded Man (★★★☆☆), earning a Most Promising Newcomer César Award nomination for his intense performance as Henri, a young man who comes of age cruising his local train station.
The film — which premiered at Cannes in 1983, and had an extremely limited stateside release in 1985 — actually did win the César for its script, by Chéreau and author-activist Hervé Guibert, inspired by the street-savvy works of Jean Genet.
Viewing the film now, as it arrives finally on digital home video via a brilliant, new 4K restoration courtesy of Altered Innocence and Studiocanal, other muses also spring to mind, from the slinky sailors of Rainer Fassbinder’s Querelle, released a year prior, to the pugnacious gay hustler of Wallace Potts’ sublimely sexy 1979 French erotica Le Beau Mec.
Somewhere between Le Beau Mec and William Friedkin’s Cruising, we might meet Henri, looking like a sweaty, unstable young Al Pacino, as he prowls his economically depressed, French provincial town. On a frantic trip with Mom (Annick Alane) and Dad (Armin Mueller-Stahl) to drop his sister (Sophie Edmond) off at the train station, Henri stumbles onto the cruising scene inside the men’s bathroom, and something in him is stirred.
Trying to elude an older man who’s following him around the station, Henri spots Jean (Vittorio Mezzogiorno), a haggard hustler in tight jeans who comes on hard, pulling Henri into robbing a trick in the bathroom. In short order, Henri is obsessed with Jean, a scuzzy James Dean, who, per Mezzogiorno’s credibly slippery performance, might be a total wolf, but definitely has a weakness for this lost lamb.
Henri wants to be like Jean, he longs to be with him, and tags along like a puppy-dog on a series of seedy escapades, shot with smoothly nimble camerawork in and around the old station, and traversing the city streets and alleys. In one elegantly shot and paced scene, Jean leads Henri on a winding tour of a carnival midway that’s like a gateway between the libertine but violent and brutal world Jean inhabits and the real world of home and family to which Henri occasionally retreats.
Alane and future Oscar nominee Muehller-Stahl (credited here as Müller-Stahl) are a poignant picture of functional dysfunction as Henri’s flummoxed parents, but Mom and Dad’s presence in the film remains vague, their storyline repetitive.
As Henri is drawn into turning tricks himself, he becomes a menace to his family, when he’s not ignoring them, and they tolerate it, the point being, apparently, that he’s only dipping his toe in this street life and can always come home to the straight world and a home-cooked meal.
Though Henri and Jean fall into a strange Oliver Twist and Artful Dodger dynamic, sometimes involving copious amounts of nudity but not always sex, they don’t exactly become lovers. Jean already has a lover, the supremely patient Elizabeth, portrayed by Lisa Kreuzer, in the film’s warmest performance.
Lurking on the margins of their triangle is the old man from the station, Mr. Bosmans (Roland Bertin, also excellent), who might turn out to be a savior, or merely Fagin to Henri’s Oliver as the story twists to its tragic conclusion.
The Wounded Man is available on DVD and limited edition Blu-ray, including two bonus video essays plus the restored trailer. Please visit www.alteredinnocence.net/woundedman.
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