Tuesday, June 18, 2024

“SAUVAGES”

THE STORY – In Borneo, at the edge of the tropical forest, Kéria is given a baby orangutan that has been rescued from the oil palm plantation where her father works. At the same time, her young cousin Selaï has come to live with them, seeking refuge from the conflict between his nomadic family and the logging companies. Together, Kéria, Selaï and the little ape will battle the destruction of their ancestral forest home, now under greater threat than ever. But for Kéria, the fight will also allow her to discover the truth of her own origins.

THE CAST – Claude Barras, Babette De Coster, Martin Verset, Laetitia Dosch, Benoît Poelvoorde, Pierre-Isaïe Duc, Michel Vuillermoz & Paysan Sailyvia

THE TEAM – Claude Barras (Director/Writer), Nancy Huston, Catherine Paille & Morgan Navarro (Writers)

THE RUNNING TIME – 87 Minutes


Claude Barras, the Academy Award-nominated filmmaker behind “My Life As A Zucchini,” has returned to the Cannes Film Festival with “Sauvages” (or “Savages”). This eco-friendly adventure story takes a broad approach in its storytelling and refuses to dumb down or soften the environmental issues on its mind for its young target audience.

“Sauvages” wastes no time in underlining to whom the title is referring. We are in Borneo, the third largest island in the world, and an apparently idyllic jungle scene of an orangutan suckling her young chimp is immediately interrupted by the sound of chainsaws cutting down trees. Chaos and destruction soon follow as the chimp is rescued from certain death by the intervention of an 11-year-old girl, Kéria (Babette De Coster), and her widower father (Benoît Poelvoorde). Naming the chimp Oshi from the sound of his sneeze, Kéria immediately begins to play mother to the orphaned animal, but another new presence in her life soon disrupts this benign fantasy. Kéria’s cousin Selaï (Martin Verset) has come to visit as his family is involved in the fight against the stripping of the Indigenous Penan peoples’ land rights and deforestation. At first, he doesn’t fit in, and Kéria joins in on her schoolmates’ mockery of her cousin even though she is half Penan herself.

However, when Oshi escapes into the jungle, and Kéria gets lost going after him, the tables are turned, and now Selaï, Kéria, and Ozu must find their way through the jungle and face its dangers. And there are dangers, with many spiders, snakes, panthers, bears, and creatures eating other creatures, that one almost expects to hear Werner Herzog commentating on the soundtrack about how when he looks in the jungle, he sees only murder. But despite all the nature red in tooth and claw, the gravest danger is still that of the annihilating forces of capitalism, here embodied by the cannily titled “Green Forest Company.”

We realize early on that Kéria is in the midst of a coming-of-age story on more than one level. There is a growth in her understanding of Kéria’s relationship with nature, as Oshi is neither a toy nor is Kéria a surrogate mother. She also learns about her own identity, for the first time learning about her mother’s people and her place in their culture. By doing so, she takes on a new political understanding, as her mother’s death is closely related to this, and the film pulls no punches about the savagery with which indigenous people have been treated. 

The stop-motion animation has all the color and vibrancy that the tropical setting demands, and there are stunning moments of luminous beauty. The tactile dimension of the stop-motion art form also adds to the relationships and character work within the piece. “Sauvages” is a touching film in more ways than one as Claude Barras slowly allows the various relationships Kéria has with her father, Oshi, and Selaï to work their way over the audience for a subtle but effective emotional payoff. Charles de Ville’s sound design is also vitally important, bringing the jungle alive in such a way as to suggest a superabundance of life and vitality. Of course, the sound of chainsaws – as mentioned above – engines and rock music heard from jeeps that roar past have a grinding and horrific effect, which contrasts nicely with the peaceful sounds of the jungle we get acquainted with earlier through Kéria’s perspective.

Some might find the moral behind “Sauvages” overly simplistic and not as fulfilling as “My Life As A Zucchini,” but such a reading would be foolish for “Sauvages” still has a lot to offer. This is precisely the sort of film modern audiences need in a time of this deep environmental crisis, and it is to the credit of the scriptwriters Barras, Catherine Paillé, Morgan Navarro, and Nancy Huston that they don’t offer any palliative compromises. The message is simply to stop buying products such as palm oil, stop displacing Indigenous peoples, and save the wild forests, which is conveyed in a stimulating manner. While this may apply directly to adults, the lovely characters, heartwarming story, and brilliant animation will be enough to make “Sauvages” appeal to kids as well without totally going over their heads with its more adult-heavy themes of loss, preservation, and family.

THE RECAP

THE GOOD - A beautifully animated adventure film with a strong environmental message.

THE BAD - The themes and way they are conveyed may be overly simplistic.

THE OSCAR PROSPECTS - Best Animated Feature

THE FINAL SCORE - 8/10

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<b>THE GOOD - </b>A beautifully animated adventure film with a strong environmental message.<br><br> <b>THE BAD - </b>The themes and way they are conveyed may be overly simplistic.<br><br> <b>THE OSCAR PROSPECTS - </b><a href="/oscar-predictions-best-animated-feature/">Best Animated Feature</a><br><br> <b>THE FINAL SCORE - </b>8/10<br><br>"SAUVAGES"