Movie Review: A still-life Western in French — “Savage State (L’état sauvage)”

I blame karma for “Savage State.”

You spend a lifetime bitching about “pace” and “urgency,” the notion for motion pictures to remember the “motion” part, and you’re punished with a French-Canadian still-life like this.

“Savage State” is a Civil War era Western about French transplants to the South fleeing West when their bubble is burst by those damned uncouth Yankees. It devolves into a slow-motion chase led by a lady brigand/smuggler (Kate Moran) in pursuit of five beautiful women, the quartet of men taking them overland to San Francisco.

French director David Perrault (“Our Heroes Died Tonight”), cinematographer Christopher Duchange, production designer Florian Sanson, costumer Véronique Gely and art director Sylvain Dion ensure that most every frame is just gorgeous to behold.

The hair and makeup department make certain that every woman in the cast — especially the fleeing family played by Alice Isaaz, Déborah François, Maryne Bertieaux and Constance Dollé and their voodoo practicing hired (not enslaved) servant “Because we are not like those (racist) savages” — are “Project Runway” perfect in every damned frame as they stumble, on foot, from Missouri to California.

Isaaz, playing the brooding but plucky youngest sister, smitten with their smuggler/guide Victor (Kevin Janssens) is stunning in every frame, nary a hair out of place.

It’s based on the historical effort of Napoleon III to recruit French colonists to move to America and help finance the Confederacy, with smugglers dabbling in pearls, diamonds and perfumes as part of that. Missing diamonds are what drive the brigands led by Bettie (Moran) to hunt the family once they’ve lost their insulated St. Charles, Missouri lives of dress balls and luxury.

That “hunt,” crossing much of the country, is “slow-walked” in the extreme. The few shootouts are well-staged, but far between.

“Savage” is more a movie of women reading French novels by candlelight in a tent, brooding (mostly in French, with English subtitles) over missing lovers or would-be “bad boy” crushes, and beautiful actresses and actors set against beautiful scenery.

Suffice it to say, there’s a reason the French aren’t known for their Westerns. And it isn’t just because they have a trail guide singing “Home on the Range” a decade before it was composed. This is pretentious, chatty and maddeningly slow.

“Savage State” is a Western as animated as a Daguerreotype.

MPA Rating: unrated, violence

Cast: Alice Isaaz, Kevin Janssens, Déborah François, Armelle Abibou, Maryne Bertieaux, Bruno Todeschini, Constance Dollé and Kate Moran

Credits: A Samuel Goldwyn release.

Running time: 1:58

About Roger Moore

Movie Critic, formerly with McClatchy-Tribune News Service, Orlando Sentinel, published in Spin Magazine, The World and now published here, Orlando Magazine, Autoweek Magazine
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