Movie  Vie Sauvage, a film by Cédric Kahn
14/08/201700:00 Judith Prescott

Award-winning director Cédric Kahn’s Vie Sauvage (Wild Life) is an intriguing film based on a true story. The plot - and the story - defies expectations and raises several questions over the issue of child-rearing in a technology-obsessed society. It also challenges the idea of the superiority of the mother-child bond, while presenting a compelling argument for greater acknowledgement in French divorce courts for the role of the father in raising a family.

The story commences at the end of the 1990s. Philippe Fournier (Mathieu Kassovitz) and his partner Nora (Céline Sellette) are raising their children in a commune.  Nora has grown tired of the alternative lifestyle. She has decided she wants the children to go a proper school and integrate into French society. She runs away with Tsali (David Gastou), aged 9, Okyasa (Sofiane Neveu), aged 8, and their half brother. The courts eventually give her main custody of the children. While visiting their father, Phillippe decides not to return Tsali and Okyasa to their mother and spends the next 11 years on the run. Nora spends those years desperately searching for hers sons and never giving up hope of their return.

This is Kahn’s second film based on a real-life event. Roberto Succo told the story of an Italian who killed his parents in 1981 and five years later, while on release from a psychiatric hospital, went on a two-year criminal spree before being captured by the police. The main protagonist in Vie Sauvage also lives on the edge of society, albeit within the confines on the law. Admirably, Kahn chooses not to judge Phillippe for his decision to deprive his sons of their mother. He portrays him as an idealist who vehemently believes children are happier when living closer to nature. He is not an activist out to convert others to his way of life, but simply wants to be left alone to bring up his children in accordance with his beliefs. It is ironic that life on the run – without legal papers for his sons and forcing them to regularly change identity – removes the notion of freedom-of-choice, a notion that lies so close to Philippe’s heart.

There is a slight tendancy for the film to overplay the idyllic, back-to-nature aspect of the alternative lifestyle, while downplaying some obvious disadvantages. Scenes of bucolic bliss and endless starry nights around a bonfire while the children gambol in the background outweigh those showing the reality of life on the run. Tsali and Okyasa have none of life’s comforts and do back-breaking, menial tasks to help their father earn money. As adolescence kicks in, both kids start to rebel against their father’s lifestyle, and here Vie Sauvage reserves its greatest surprise.

Without Kassovitz’s beautifully controlled performance as Philippe, the character could easily be repulsive. There are hints of a darker, more torturted man deep within the nature-loving, hard-working Philippe, but this man stays hidden and the loving father gains the upper hand. After a superb performance in Tony Gatlif’s Geronimo, Sellette is highly convincing as Nora, although unfortunately Kahn limits her role to just a few scenes at the beginning and at the end of the film.  Thought-provoking and intelligent, Vie Sauvage is one of Kahn’s best films to date.

To watch this movie on TV5MONDE Asie Pacifique, click
here for movie schedule in your local time zone. The article was originally published on French Cinema Review, a blog dedicated to French Cinema, written and curated by Judith Prescott.
I have worked as a journalist for 24 years both in London, England and now in Paris, France. I was a broadcast journalist for the English service of Radio France Internationale in Paris for 17 years before leaving to set up a blog for French cinema fans everywhere. I also worked as a reviewer of French films for The Hollywood Reporter and was a jury member for the Prix Michel d'Ornano at the Festival of American Films at Deauville. I am passionate about French films, both old and new, and want to share this passion with filmgoers around the globe.

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