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Jean is young, gay, and promiscuous. Only after he meets one or two women, including Laura does he come to realize his bisexuality. Jean has to overcome a personal crisis (he is HIV-positive) and a tough choice between Laura and his male lover Samy.Written by
Dragomir R. Radev <firstname.lastname@example.org>
It appears to me that lately Hollywood has rediscovered a new well that is producing plenty of treasures and stories about a still present evil, that seemed largely forgotten in the movies and that rendered in the past great pictures aligned with social commentaries, denounces and good fights against prejudices. Stories about the HIV/AIDS epidemic and they're coming in the thousands: right after brilliant documentary "How To Survive a Plague", the stream continued with "Dallas Buyers Club", "Behind the Candelabra", and the upcoming adaptation of "The Normal Heart". They're all heroic, real and influential tellings and they're getting a lot of praise from everybody. Meanwhile, I took the time to look back at the time machine and search for works that were released back in the nightmarish days when the plague was a horrific death sentence and a theme barely touched on the screen. Among those, "Les Nuits Fauves" ("Savage Nights") is one that needs to receive a special attention. It's unlike any of the fore-mentioned titles, it's daring at the same time it's unpleasant, careless, controversial, and it's a different take from almost all the other films of the period. This is the anti-"Philadelphia" - I make this comparison because they were released very next to each other (the same year in most countries).
What you're about to see was a real story, fictionalized at times but real. Its writer, director and main star Cyril Collard exposes a dark truth that frightens, revolts and angers, but he was being truth to himself and to the public. First, with his 1986 novel of same name and then by making this adaptation, huge risks in presenting his story about Jean, a HIV positive cinematographer wanna be director who refuses to deal with his condition, still living a hedonistic and wild life of parties, drugs and sex with both men and women. We focus on two of his lovers: the 17 year-old Laura (Rohmane Bohringer), naive and impressionable enough to fall in love with him; and the rugby player Sami (Carlos López), bisexual just like Jean, but they're more into the attraction part than dealing with a love/hate kind of thing. Torn between these two and also with casual sex encounters with strangers under a Parisian bridge, Jean ignores his disease living as if things never changed, deeply knowing that he is changing, getting affected more and more each day goes by. Everything's resumed into knowing that he's alive and kicking and there's some time to be enjoyed before death.
But don't be fooled. "Savage Nights" is pain after pain, pleasure is very limited. The relation with Sami is a pure escapism since most of the time he's committed with girls and finding time to be join a racist/homophobic group, beating up people like Jean, where he can release his frustration of not living the same way he did with his criminal father back in Spain; the "love" affair with Laura is a constant headache, mostly because she doesn't handle well the fact that Jean likes guys (and she knows about Sami). It gets worse when Jean reveals that he's HIV positive and she might be as well because they had unprotected sexual relations. His excuse for not saying it before is unreasonable yet believable (and probably used by many folks out there): he thought she'd never get AIDS because their love is strong and overcomes anything, even a deadly virus. It's the greatest and most difficult scene of the film, and some will focus their anger and hate not on the character but on Collard.
I appreciated the film because Collard has given a different perspective on a delicate theme at the time, had a lot of nerve in telling his story (but not necessarily a full factual retelling, there's rumors that the story ended differently for the real girl who inspired Laura) and despite the obstacles faced with his new reality, finding ways to see life with some optimism, grasping to it with the few strength he has and seeing it a little differently. Sure, he's still careless about others and himself, always putting his feelings above the others, including family and friends but now he can truly say he loves his life. Sickness feels less important, the complete opposite of what happens in similar themed films where you see characters slowly succumbing to the disease, which is always on the foreground, preventing them to do anything about it.
Collard's adaptation of his own novel doesn't betray his source, though he left out great sequences - the one in Morocco is reduced to bits and pieces, but it was poetic translated in surreal scenes - but the way he conducted its transformation to the screen was very good, small chapters and fragments of a full speeding life that runs towards the inevitable end that never seems to actually feel it. It's a circle of parties, drugs, sex, wild nights, fights and risky business in a city whose corners seems to invite all of those at any given moment.
But what's wrong with "Savage Nights"? It's lack of focus in the disease's progress. The character forgets about his problems and still lives his life but in terms of reality the disease becomes overlooked when it shouldn't. But forget that. What about his message to audiences? I'm positively sure that Collard was simply telling his own story without endorsing or condemning his actions - though anyone else can get easily confused with everything presented there. Let people figure out for themselves. That's what happened but it wasn't very helpful since many critics reacted badly with the movie, others praised it, and the man hasn't lived enough to expose his thoughts, dying a few days earlier of the rain of awards at the Cesar. The enigma stays on with this film testament, who was he and how to describe him and his acts? Rebellious, honest, sickening, hateful, fearless? Hero or villain? Choose yours. 8/10
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