LES SAUVAGES (Savages)
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Rebecca Zlotowski
Writer: Sabri Louatah (novels & screenplay); Rebecca Zlotowski, Benjamin Charbit, David Elkim
Cast: Roschdy Zem, Amira Casar, Marina Foïs, Dali Benssalah, Sofiane Zermani, Souheila Yacoub, Shaïn Boumedine, Kadri Islands, Carima Amarouche, Lyna Khoudri, Farida Rahouadj
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC,
Opened: September 19, 2019 on Canal. Available on Topic September 17, 2020
If you’re an American watching the French TV episodes of “Les Sauvages,” you’d swear that the project was inspired by the election of Barak Obama, who apparently came out of nowhere during his first term in the US Senate to become President—twice. Could America have become post-racial? Not when you find out that the non-Hispanic white vote each time was under 40%, which means that he could not have been chosen without a turnout from the so-called minority population. Even more surprising, when his term was up, a person who has always been a household name, Donald J. Trump, perhaps the least qualified major candidate ever, defeated one of the most qualified people. What happened? The money is on the idea of blowback: deeply offended that a Black man took the highest office in the land, the American (white) public turned toward a person who from the beginning sent out racial dog whistles.
In the TV episodes of “Les sauvages,” the blowback worked in a reverse way, as France, a nation in crisis with far-right candidate Marine Le Pen polling second in a national election, changed course. Remember that “Les Sauvages” is fiction, but Sabri Louiatah, from whose novel the TV episodes have adapted and programmed via the direction of Rebecca Zlotowski (whose “Grand Central” deals with the discovery of radioactive contamination), could become real. In politics, anything can happen.
“Les Sauvages” studies two families, the Chaouch people consisting of Idder Chaouch and his daughter Jasmine; and the Nerrouch family, led by Fouad Nerrouche who is Jasmine’s boyfriend, and Nazir, a militant Muslim, hated by his brother Faouad.
The kicker here is that Idder Chaouch (Roschdy Zem) has been elected by the French people to the presidency with a solid 53.1% majority. The other 46.9% are not happy, yet they have little idea what policies he will follow under than the usual boilerplate, unifying the people. He’s a Muslim originally from Algeria, the first chap from the Mahgreb to ascend to the highest office, and what makes his majority vote particularly difficult to understand is that not all the Algerian-French want him. His Muslim enemies consider him a sellout for playing the game in a colonialist country that fought a vicious war against the independence drive in French Algeria.
The central event that drives most of the series is the attempted assassination of the new president-elect just after the election, given him not even a chance to prove or embarrass himself in office. The shooter is known. He is the eighteen-year-old Krim Benaïm, a gifted musician who is trying out for the conservatory. His motivation is unclear as he is silent under police interrogation. The theory is that he did not operate alone but was manipulated by Nazir Nerrouche (Sofiane Zermani), a militant Algerian then in jail who hated by the pro-French population, especially by his brother Fouad Nerrouche (Dali Benssalah), who is engaged to the president-elect’s daughter and adviser, Jasmine (Souheila Yacoub).
In episode one, the series’ most ambitious, we get to know the characters, the interlocking relationships, and get a closeup view of a wedding, which involves a highly spirited group of Algerian-French, the women showing their excitement in the Arab way by ululating, called zaghrouta. We learn that Idder Chaouch’s wife Daria (Amira Casar) is a musician and orchestra conductor who down to the last minute is not certain she wants to be First Lady, even to the extent of crumpling the ballot and tossing it. We are introduced to Marion, in charge of the candidate’s personal safety, burdened with guilt at her inability to stop the attack.
As the fast-moving episodes move on, each lasting from 50 to 60 minutes, we get a look at the police examinations, the rivalry within the ethnic Algerian families, all to the end of guessing what might happen if such events were to occur in the near future. The editing is rapid, shifting scenes, some last just seconds. The episodes are, in part breathtaking, the acting authentic. Filmed in Paris and Saint Étienne, France.
In French with English subtitles.