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Sauvage innocence

Maverick director Philippe Garrel continues to produce a brand of cinema that grew out of a post-New Wave generation of directors that also included Jean Eustache, Chantal Akerman and Jacques Doillon. Employing a deceptively simple style, Garrel’s films are in fact formally ambitious and very personal. His recent work combines autobiographical elements with fairly straightforward narrative fictions that appeal to a wider audience. Wild Innocence continues in this mode. It tells of François (Mehdi Behaj Kacem), a young director of well-regarded but uncommercial films whose model wife has died from a drug overdose.
The story inevitably recalls Garrel’s relationship with ’60s pop icon and drug casualty Nico, which provided the inspiration for much of the director’s work. In Wild Innocence, François plans to exorcise his grief by making an anti-drug film. Ironically, in order to finance the movie he’s forced to accept an offer from a dubious businessman who will only provide the money on condition that François smuggles two suitcases of heroin into France from Amsterdam, where part of the film is to be shot. Reluctantly accepting the offer, François finds himself caught in a vicious circle which sees his leading actress and new lover succumb to heroin during the shoot. As one might expect, Garrel’s film is anything but a cynical comment on obsession and self-service in art. Intense and earnest, it’s another of his carefully composed studies of the complex relationship between fiction and reality, the past and the present. With luminous wide-screen black-and-white photography by New Wave veteran Raoul Coutard, and the kind of naturalistic performances that grace so many Robert Bresson films, Wild Innocence is a work of rare artistry and sensitivity.
France, 2001. English subtitles. Black and white. Anamorphic. Dolby stereo SR. 123 mins.

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