Feb 1, 2015

Review: Les nuits fauves [Savage Nights] (1992)

Savage Nights is a no-holds-barred look at one man's battle with AIDS. What makes this an unbelievably personal film is due to the fact that Cyril Collard wrote the book (which is semi-autobiographical) that the story is based on, he wrote the script, he directed it and he even starred in the main role. Collard even wrote the songs that make up the soundtrack. Does it get any more personal than that?

Three days before Savage Nights when on to win four Césars in France, which is like the Academy Awards in the US, Collard died of AIDS. AIDS was still considered an extremely controversial topic in 1992 and it still is. The stigma just isn't as intense today as it once was though. Keeping that in mind, SN was a trailblazer when it came to presenting AIDS in what is a totally unforgiving light. Movies with AIDS had been done before, but I don't know of any that depicted the disease as bravely as Collard did.


Genre: biography, drama
Directed by: Cyril Collard
Produced by: Nella Banfi, Jean-Frédéric Samie, Alessandro Verdecchi, etc.
Written by: Cyril Collard , Jacques Fieschi
Music by: René-Marc Bini, Cyril Collard
Running time: 126 minutes
Production company: Banfilm, La Sept Cinéma, Société Nouvelle de Cinématographie, etc.
Distributed by: Pan Européenne Distribution, Belas Artès Cinématografica, Euro Space, etc.
Country: France, Italy
Language: French, Spanish
Budget: N/A
Box office: $662,341 (United States)

IMDb entry
Rotten Tomatoes entry

Starring: Cyril Collard, Romane Bohringer, Carlos López, Corine Blue, Claude Winter, René-Marc Bini, Maria Schneider, Clémentine Célarié, Laura Favali, Denis D'Arcangelo, Jean-Jacques Jauffret



Jean (Cyril Collard), an aspiring film director, has been diagnosed with AIDS. You wouldn't think so with the way he lives his life though. He still goes out partying, he drives fast and his nights are often marked by sexual encounters with strangers under bridges. Jean simply refuses to let his disease be a label to live by. Charmed upon meeting seventeen year-old Laura (Romane Bohringer) while shooting a commercial, Jean begins a relationship with her while also starting one with an amateur rugby player named Samy (Carlos López). 


If you couldn't tell from the synopsis, there is a lot of sex in Savage Nights. A lot. Jean is bisexual and he certainly lives a colourful life. Not all of his sexual encounters are the kind to be very proud of though, namely the ones that take place under bridges with unknown men. This very well could be how he got AIDS in the first place. 

Jean doesn't care though and something that will probably (understandably) infuriate a lot of people is his blatant disregard for anyone he has sex with. Jean doesn't inform Laura that he's AIDS positive and he has every chance of ruining her young life because of his irresponsibility and selfishness. His excuse is that he doesn't feel like the disease is a part of him when he makes love to her and didn't think she could ever get it as a result. 

Pretty bad right? It's no wonder that Jean gets accused of being someone who sucks everyone around him dry. He doesn't truly love Laura and he doesn't truly love Samy either. He's just able to somehow get people hooked on him without ever really giving back. That's what makes his character so interesting to watch though as he lives this self-destructive life that also destroys lives around him. 

Laura bears most of the brunt from Jean's antics and Romane Bohringer puts on quite the performance. She won for Best Female Newcomer at the Césars and it was well deserved, trust me. The anguish that Laura feels because of Jean is made absolutely palpable because of Bohringer's ability to put herself in her character's shoes.

The other point I want to make about SN is how creative the cinematography is. Cinematographer Manuel Teran isn't afraid to capture the action from some interesting angles and I especially like his work when it comes to the lighting. The sickly green lighting of the under-bridge scenes are particularly uncomfortable.

Savage Nights doesn't follow the easy path and Cyril Collard isn't scared to tread into inevitable controversy. Jean is a character who's difficult to really like, but I still somehow found myself supporting him. You want him to figure things out before its too late and that's not an easy thing to do with a character who displays criminal levels of selfishness. I got completely sucked into the story and very much enjoyed the visuals as well. Savage Nights is not an easy movie to watch, but it's one that's totally worth seeing.



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