A few weeks back on Adventures in Movies, Blake wondered about the decline of westerns. Making its North American premiere at the Fantasia Film Festival, Savage State (L’etat Sauvage) is an attempt to prove there is still life in the genre. Set in 1863 Missouri, the story follows a group of French colonists who look to escape to Paris. With a civil war raging around them and a mysterious group on their trail, the journey becomes more dangerous each day.
Savage State bucks the narrative tradition of the classic westerns. A largely female casts drives the plot. Edmond, the patriarch of the family, is timid. He is far from the typical masculine hero portrayed when westerns ruled the big screen. The women in his life seem to prop him up. It is very noticeable in once scene when a character comments how only one man is named.
Visually, the film is impressive though it takes some time to reach its full potential. Savage State begins in Missouri where it sets up its premise. Here, the action takes place at opulent mansions and fancy parties. It very much has the look of a period piece. Once Savage State gets out on the open range, it is gorgeous. The natural landscapes look absolutely stunning. Director David Perrault’s best work is during this portion of the movie. Instead of contrasting the lives the women have led, the first half almost looks claustrophobic in comparison.
There is a lot going on in the story. The plot goes beyond the shift in lifestyle, shootouts, and general hardships that are to be expected. Savage State also adds voodoo and magic into his Wild West tale. All of this while under the feminine gaze. There is some potential here thanks in large part to the interesting characters. Savage State never quite gets it point across, however. Just when it seems like the characters are given strong motivations, it is taken away when one of the characters seems to be driven by simple jealousy.
Savage State is one of those movies that is never truly bad. The story is well paced and will keep the audience engrossed in its characters’ struggle. It is also a unique take on the travel across the America tale. This is not one of Manifest Destiny, but a tale about leaving the country. With a little more focus, it could have been something truly special.
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