WOLF nathalie biancheri species dysphoria
Writer/director Nathalie Biancheri (left) and actor George MacKay (right) on the set of WOLF, a Focus Features release. Credit : Conor Horgan / Focus Features

Nathalie Biancheri became fascinated with the concept of species dysphoria, in which a person believes their body is in the wrong species. Her new feature as writer-director, Wolf, focuses on what might happen if this unique phenomenon was more widespread. This led her to imagine a clinic that exclusively treats teenagers suffering from the condition.

“I had no idea that there is quite a growing community of people that actually feel that they’re an animal and feels it quite strongly and significantly, and there’s all sorts of different branches,” Biancheri tells MovieMaker.

Although she performed researched and interviewed those with species dysphoria, Biancheri understood certain boundaries were necessary in order to maintain the artistic freedom one needs to create something fictional.

“I felt like I wanted to steer very clear from the real condition and not make a film that was about people who really in our world have species dysphoria,” she says.

To Biancheri species dysphoria “was more of a jumping off point. … OK, there is this interesting phenomenon that exists. What can I take from that?

What interested Biancheri were the broader issues of “identity and what makes a human being.” Species dysphoria proved to be a perfect entry point to explore these ideas within the framework of a “completely fictional world and interpretation of species dysphoria” which Biancheri says “is very much a figment of my imagination.”

WOLF nathalie biancheri species dysphoria

George MacKay stars as Jacob in Wolf, from writer-director Nathalie Biancheri. Photos by Conor Horgan/Focus Features

This fictional world of Wolf is a remote clinic in Europe, where teenagers are sent by their parents to get treatment, so that they can return home, hopefully “cured” of their condition. The titular wolf is Jacob, who is played by George MacKay in a striking physical performance. MacKay’s Jacob is long and limber. He gracefully moves around the clinic shirtless on all fours, as the wolf he truly believes he is. Lily-Rose Depp co-stars as Wildcat. While its unclear just how long Wildcat has been there, it does appear that she is not as committed to her core beliefs that she’s actually a cat as Jacob is to being a wolf.

“I want to create in some way a blank canvas,” Biancheri says of MacKay’s Jacob. “The beauty of George as an actor, is that he feels so much, but the character says so little. I thought through him, anyone can project their own questions about the world onto him, and onto this place and onto these other characters.”

Biancheri is not a fan of cinema that provides easy answers.

When she got questions from her distributor Focus Features: “What is it that you’re saying again?” her response was “I just want people to have questions really.”

“For me, those are films that fascinate me, where I’m left wondering, even sometimes a bit dissatisfied by the end of the screening, like, OK, is it this or that?” she continues.

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“Then maybe I go back to it. I’d love to know that you’ve thought about the film after having watched it, without that definite sense of, Oh, yeah, this is this, because those are the things that make you question the world that we live in and the ways that we live.”

“And that’s kind of the point of making films,” Biancheri adds.

Tech Box:

Camera: ARRI ALEXA Mini RAW Open Gate 3.4K – 1:1,85 (aspect ratio)

Lighting: HMIs(12kW, 4kW, M18) mixed with SkyPanels (one S360, a few S60). For night shoots we mainly used 18kW on genie booms, striking the scene from a distance.

Lenses: PanaVision Ultra Speeds

Color Grading: Wiktor Sasim @ The Chimney Pot Warsaw.

Wolf, written and directed by Nathalie Biancheri, is now in theaters. 

Main image (above): Nathalie Biancheri and George MacKay on the set of Wolf. Photo by Conor Horgan/Focus Features.