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July 17, 2005

Savage Innocence, 2001

savage.gifIn an early episode in the film, a struggling filmmaker, François (Mehdi Belhaj Kacem) meets with a producer named Hutten (Jean Pommier) in order to obtain funding for his proposed, self-described anti-heroin and anti-mafia film that serves do demythologize drugs called Sauvage Innocence that revolved around the tragic life of a presumably fictional character named Marie-Thérèse (and whom his friends and family instantly recognize as a thinly veiled characterization based on François' former lover, Carole, a fashion model who had died of a drug overdose). Appearing eager to collaborate with the young filmmaker whom he considers to be a genuine auteur, Hutten offers to fund him an advance in order to help defray preproduction costs before leaving the room to attend to some unspecified matter, assuring François that his personal assistant is in the process of issuing him a check and will be handing it to him shortly. François continues to wait in the emptied office into the late hours for the check that never materializes until he is chased away by the night watchman. The brusque encounter would prove to be a turning point in François' obsession with the realization of his film. Contacting a disreputable businessman named Chas (Michel Subor) for funding, François agrees to smuggle a suitcase full of heroin into the country in exchange for the financing of his entire film budget. However, the irony of situation proves inextricably deeper than the tainted money. Casting his new lover Lucie (Julia Faure), a drama student and aspiring actress in the role of Marie-Thérèse, Hutten's description of François as an auteur proved eerily prescient and disturbing. Like retired detective Scottie Ferguson's manipulation and transformation of department store clerk Judy Barton into the tragic image of his dead lover in Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo, François becomes equally haunted in the pursuit of the illusion - the fictionalized reality - of his tormented, unrequited vision. By tracing François' increasing obsession and emotional withdrawal with the consuming idea of capturing the essence of Carole's troubled soul, embodied through the fictional reincarnation of Marie-Thérèse, and interpreted by his current paramour Lucie, Philippe Garrel creates an intricate, yet nuanced psychological deconstruction, not only of a pliable, self-destructive, addictive personality, but also the obsessiveness and controlling mentality (and to some degree, a kind of megalomania) innate in an auteurist personality. Rather than illustrating the innate disparity between performance and real-life that underlies the filmmaking process Savage Innocence presents an ingenious permutation on the narrative structure of a film within a film in which the myopic pursuit of the artistic ideal leads to a Pirandellian madness and self-prophecy. It is within this context that Chas' decision to recruit François for the clandestine task because of his "virgin" qualities in being neither a drug user nor a trafficker can be seen as a manifestation of the film's metaphoric title, the savage innocent who carves a corruptive path but remains pure in ideal, unscathed in the wake of his own emotional destruction.

Posted by acquarello on Jul 17, 2005 | | Filed under 2005


Acquarello--I don't think I'd heard of Garrel till I started reading Senses a few years ago; many of them appear to be fans. I still haven't seen anything by him. Is there anything on region 1 DVD? And is he sort of a cult filmmaker in France, with narrow but strong appeal? Nice to see Subor is in this film. (He has one of the most interesting faces in all movies, esp. as he's aged.

Posted by: girish on Jul 18, 2005 8:01 AM | Permalink

A couple of Garrel DVDs were released in France but a year ago but they seem to be out of print now. I have this one though, so I can hook you up. ;) He's sort of a maverick director which is part of his appeal I think, and there was a retrospective recently (in the past 2-3 years) on his work. His films are emotionally intense but not histrionic which is what makes them all the more disquieting sometimes.

Subor was a great choice. There is a menacing physicality to him that clearly signaled that this guy wasn't entirely kosher. Garrel also lingers on his physicality (particularly the face) as Denis also did in L'Intrus. He definitely embodies "a life with history".

Posted by: acquarello on Jul 18, 2005 10:40 AM | Permalink

There's nothing by Garrel available on Region 1 DVD, unfortunately. I would say he is much more than a cult filmmaker, he's more of a generational spokesperson as one of the children of '68.

I'm not sure what has kept him from gaining any fame outside of France - perhaps his very dour themes or lack of flashiness. I've found the few that I've been able to see very disturbing. His early work (linked with Nico, usually experimental) is more celebrated and available on the collector circuit. UCLA will be showing one of them pretty soon - "The Inner Scar".

Posted by: Jonathan Takagi on Jul 18, 2005 11:32 AM | Permalink

I also don't understand the methodology for the short shelf life of the Garrel DVDs in France. I could have sworn that La Cicatrice intérieure was only out for about six months before it disappeared.

Posted by: acquarello on Jul 18, 2005 10:40 PM | Permalink

Me neither, things seem to go out of print all the time, though internet sites like amazon.fr are not always accurate. For example, Resnais' "Muriel" was unavailable for a long time via amazon.fr, but they were plentiful on the shelves when I actually visited a store.

Desplechin's "Léo, en jouant 'Dans la compagnie des hommes'" also went quickly out of print, but is now back. Right now his Cahiers 2-disc set is out of print, though.

Posted by: Jonathan Takagi on Jul 19, 2005 11:23 AM | Permalink

Speaking of which, I actually find that I prefer Léo: Unplugged more so than the original version. It seems less fractured. Judging by the sound level on the film on the DVD too, apparently the soundtrack balance at the Walter Reade screening wasn't quite right, which was another thing that I found really annoying. It gave a false first impression that the film was more "pumped up" than it actually was.

Posted by: acquarello on Jul 19, 2005 5:59 PM | Permalink

Re-Voir distributes Garrel's "Le révélateur" on PAL-VHS:


Posted by: Dmitry on Aug 01, 2005 12:50 PM | Permalink

Sweet! I'm tempted to get the Jackie Raynal too.

Posted by: acquarello on Aug 02, 2005 11:22 AM | Permalink

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