New Wave AIDS

In the French Savage Nights, HIV provides the catalyst for a fierce, complex love story

I'm tempted to call Savage Nights Laura's story -- which means that Collard doesn't completely succeed in telling Jean's story. He has much of it right, as when Jean drives like mad around the city and tries to elevate his denial of AIDS to the level of heroism. But Collard the actor can't take Jean that high. Or low enough, either, that his character's cruelty and eventual suffering can register fully. A colleague wondered what this film would have been like with David Thewlis of Naked in the lead. Sure enough, such a bitter intellect as his would have been welcome here. (To be fair to Collard, he said he only took the lead after other young French actors either declined to play an HIV-infected bisexual or approached the part as outright tragedy. Collard wanted a less gloomy approach.)

Collard the director has greater success here. The editing is nervy, daring us to keep up, and Collard fills the story with grace notes and unexpected humor. Despite some weaknesses in execution, there is a tremendous sense of life behind this film. I still have trouble grasping that its maker is dead.

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