Have you ever finished a movie and said, “Yep… that was a movie.” I feel like that could be the end of this review. The film was not very good, it felt like the writer/director, David Perrault, was attempting to make a highbrow art film that merges the classic western and way too much teen angst. That was all I could think about the entire way through… the film had two competing themes and they could have worked out if one of them was toned down and some different directions were taken. Instead, the film felt forced, uncomfortable, and less than enjoyable.
The film takes place during the American Civil War and centres on a French family living in Missouri. The patriarch of the family, Edmond (Bruno Todeschini) imports perfume for the wealthy, but since the onset of the war, he has had to work with smugglers to get his product. He is helped in this business by Monsieur de Lisle (Grégoire Colin) and his muscle, Victor (Kevin Janssens). de Lisle is to be wed to Edmond’s eldest daughter, Abigaëlle (Maryne Bertieaux). The family is rounded out by matriarch, Madeleine (Constance Dollé), and two more daughters, Justine (Déborah François) and Esther (Alice Issaz). Living with them is Layla (Armelle Abibou), an emancipated slave in the family’s employ.
In the opening scenes of the film, de Lisle is killed and Victor visits Edmond to inform him of this. The background of this is the Civil War and the danger it represents. While Edmond dismisses the risks, the family attends a party, where soldiers show up requesting a place to stay. The soldiers end up abusing the guests and firing off their guns, killing the hostess. At this point, Edmond realizes the dangers and hires Victor to get his family safely from Missouri to New York. While the film plays out like a western, the dialogue is non-stop teen angst. The sisters do sibling things, they bicker, they find romance, they turn little problems into bigger issues. However, Madeleine brings most of the angst, so maybe it isn’t so much teen angst as just angst. Madeleine doesn’t not hide her hatred for Layla, who she suspects of having an affair with her husband. I can’t think of a time in the film where this was proven, but the reactions of the cast seem to make me think it is true.
This is where the problems were for me… melancholy over what appears to be an arranged marriage, bitterness between the matriarch and her employee, an upper class family failing to adopt to a new way of life, and romance, or at least hints of romance, at every turn. That wasn’t the only problem with the film, however, as it was filled with plot holes, unnecessary scenes, and poor choices. When a member of the family is ill, Layla concocts a remedy but is not allowed to share it because of the bitterness that fills Madeleine. The sick family member seems to magically recover when the illness is no longer necessary. The movie’s villain, Bettie (Kate Moran), has a weird fireside orgy that is completely out of place and adds nothing to the film. Of course, nothing is shown, so I’m assuming it was an orgy, it could have been some weird cult ritual I suppose. The family, taught how to use guns while on the trail, all seem to be better at handling firearms that soldiers and cowboys.
The film had a few good things going for it that are worth calling attention to.
- A story based in Layla’s Vodou background that is told throughout the story… that story in the film would have made for a better film than this film.
- Bettie (Kate Moran) was amazing as an unhinged criminal.
- A budding romance between Ester and Victor could have completely changed the tone of the film and made me believe that it was a western-romance… but that didn’t pan out the way that it should have to improve the film. It’s even weirder when you consider that Vodou is utilized at the end of the film and, suddenly, magic is real.
- The actors that play Ester, Victor, Layla, and Bettie are all incredible. They were fun to watch, unfortunately the story wasn’t entertaining.
I did appreciate that when French was spoken, there was never a sense of urgency. So, while I had to rely on the subtitles, I was able to enjoy must of the film based on my high school French classes. I’m sure some people will enjoy more than that, but it wasn’t a movie for me and I can’t think of anyone I know that I could safely recommend this film to and they would enjoy it. They needed to find a lane and stick to it, but unfortunately this thing will take you on a wild ride that veers across an eight lane highway.
Samuel Goldwyn Films released Savage State On Demand and Digital on January 29.
Movie title: Savage State
Movie description: The American Civil War breaks out... A family of French colonists, settled in Missouri, decides to go back to France. Edmond, Madeleine, and their three daughters have to cross the whole country to reach New-York. They are led by the mysterious and dangerous mercenary, Victor.
Date published: 2021-01-29
Director(s): David Perrault
Actor(s): Alice Isaaz, Kevin Janssens, Déborah François, Bruno Todeschini, Constance Dollé, Armelle Abidou, Maryne Bertieaux, Kate Moran
Genre: Western, Drama