In an early episode in the film, a struggling filmmaker, François (Mehdi Belhaj Kacem) meets with a producer named Hutten (Jean Pommier) in order to obtain funding for his proposed, self-described anti-heroin and anti-mafia film that serves do demythologize drugs called Sauvage Innocence that revolved around the tragic life of a presumably fictional character named Marie-Thérèse (and whom his friends and family instantly recognize as a thinly veiled characterization based on François’ former lover, Carole, a fashion model who had died of a drug overdose). Appearing eager to collaborate with the young filmmaker whom he considers to be a genuine auteur, Hutten offers to fund him an advance in order to help defray preproduction costs before leaving the room to attend to some unspecified matter, assuring François that his personal assistant is in the process of issuing him a check and will be handing it to him shortly. François continues to wait in the emptied office into the late hours for the check that never materializes until he is chased away by the night watchman. The brusque encounter would prove to be a turning point in François’ obsession with the realization of his film. Contacting a disreputable businessman named Chas (Michel Subor) for funding, François agrees to smuggle a suitcase full of heroin into the country in exchange for the financing of his entire film budget. However, the irony of situation proves inextricably deeper than the tainted money. Casting his new lover Lucie (Julia Faure), a drama student and aspiring actress in the role of Marie-Thérèse, Hutten’s description of François as an auteur proved eerily prescient and disturbing. Like retired detective Scottie Ferguson’s manipulation and transformation of department store clerk Judy Barton into the tragic image of his dead lover in Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo, François becomes equally haunted in the pursuit of the illusion – the fictionalized reality – of his tormented, unrequited vision. By tracing François’ increasing obsession and emotional withdrawal with the consuming idea of capturing the essence of Carole’s troubled soul, embodied through the fictional reincarnation of Marie-Thérèse, and interpreted by his current paramour Lucie, Philippe Garrel creates an intricate, yet nuanced psychological deconstruction, not only of a pliable, self-destructive, addictive personality, but also the obsessiveness and controlling mentality (and to some degree, a kind of megalomania) innate in an auteurist personality. Rather than illustrating the innate disparity between performance and real-life that underlies the filmmaking process Savage Innocence presents an ingenious permutation on the narrative structure of a film within a film in which the myopic pursuit of the artistic ideal leads to a Pirandellian madness and self-prophecy. It is within this context that Chas’ decision to recruit François for the clandestine task because of his “virgin” qualities in being neither a drug user nor a trafficker can be seen as a manifestation of the film’s metaphoric title, the savage innocent who carves a corruptive path but remains pure in ideal, unscathed in the wake of his own emotional destruction.
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