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Film Review: L’etat sauvage

The bilingual female-led Western is an expression of both the past and the innate

L’état sauvage (Savage State) is a bilingual female-led Western directed by David Perrault. The film takes place after the American Civil War, and it follows an unnamed family of French settlers who must take matters into their own hands after they are forced to flee their comfortable Missouri home and journey back to Paris. 

Along the way they are led by their guide Victor Ludd, but as Victor’s past begins to catch up with him, the family is made to pay the price.  

As the title suggests, L’état sauvage centres around the savageness of the human character. In particular, it centres on the romance between Victor and Esther, the youngest daughter of the French family. 

Although Esther first appears as an innocent young woman who cannot sleep because of her terrifying nightmares, she finds herself gradually enticed by the darkness practiced by her housekeepers. To her family, she is rude, defiant, and unflinching, but throughout L’état sauvage, her seeming innocence is contrasted by her increasingly troubling behaviours.

That savagery is also embodied by Victor Ludd, a mercenary troublemaker who has lived a danger-filled life. Victor appears heroic and respectable after he moves on from his past and helps the family find their way to Paris, but that transformation turns out to be superficial, and he unveils his true nature as his troublesome past catches up with him.

L’état sauvage’s characters are symbolically savage in a way that is typical for post-Civil War Westerns, with each character being portrayed in an unfiltered, troubled state at different times in the film. The film is also symbolic of the raw, worrisome state of French-Americans in 1863 in what is both a reflection of the past and an expression of the innate. L’etat sauvage is a good film to watch for both English and French speakers. It is a symbolic depictions of civilized wildness that is both mannered and unruly.

L’etat sauvage was recently featured as part of Metro Cinema’s French Film Festival. The film is available for rent or purchase on Amazon.

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