As the genteel French Todeschini family made its way from its posh existence in Missouri to New York to flee back home in Paris to escape the wrath of the American Civil War, I thought of J P Dutta’s Refugee where Abhishek Bachchan guided the incandescent Kareena Kapoor and her family across the Indo-Pak border and promptly fell in love with the bewitching daughter of the house.
Love blossoms between the eldest daughter Esther (Alice Izaak) and Victor (Kevin Janssens) the mercenary the family’s patriarch Edmond (Bruno Todeschini) hire to reach his family to safety. This is a film about a craggy journey along an unpredictable dangerous route filled with blazing guns and perilous roadblocks.
The director transforms the rugged adventure story into something deep-rooted and tender, spirited and supple. As the confident narrative moves forward the focus shifts completely to the ladies until we reach a point when there are no men around to protect these beautiful women and they must take to the gun themselves.
A plot never shorn of surprises, a cast that seems to belong to the remote past and some of the most lucid photography (by Christophe Duchange) seen in recent cinema (how evocative the landscape would look on the big screen!) constitute a semi-epic that misses being an outstanding work because of its superficial view of the historic events that are microscopic in the fictional world that the writer-director David Perrault constructs so diligently.
Alas, the narrative doesn’t dig its heels deep enough. Eventually, for all its strikingly staged drama (one sequence of the family negotiating a potentially lethal abyss is heart-stopping), Savage State remains more remarkable for what it attempts than what it achieves. The plot is over-burdened with drama, some of it totally uncalled-for. That whole subplot about a female bandit (Kate Moran) chasing down the fleeing French family, is far from welcome. The dynamics within the family—the relationship among the three sisters and between the patriarch’s wife (Constance Dollé) and mistress (Armelle Abibou)—are far more controlled and compelling.
The performances are uniformly convincing, though none of these actors are aiming for an Oscar. The film is worth watching for recreating the tumult of the Civil War in a tone that is forever civil and never savage.
Directed by David Perrault, Savage Stage gets 3 stars
Image source: IMDb, Youtube/UniFrance
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