Adapted from a novel by coscreenwriter Gilbert Tanugi, SAXO follows the misfortunes of a young Parisian music producer, Lanvin. As the film opens, Lanvin is seriously in debt to a loan shark named Rosen. When he can't pay up, Rosen's men set fire to a truck used by Lanvin and the punk band
he's managing. Lanvin then learns the band has cut a deal with Rosen behind his back, so he dumps them. His faith in music is soon restored, however, when he hears Americans Joe and Puppet Bennet (Brooks and Busia) play their jazzy blues in a black nightspot--he on sax, she on guitar and vocals.
Their manager (Pollard) tells Lanvin he can sign the black duo if he pays Pollard 5,000 francs--money Lanvin doesn't have and shouldn't borrow, considering recent events. He gets the money from his stepfather, Harari, who loves black American music as much as Lanvin does. Unfortunately, once
Lanvin meets the duo the distrustful Busia refuses to sign, telling Lanvin that God is their producer. His sincerity finally wins her over, but he must swear to the devout singer in church that he will watch over the nervous Brooks. In the meantime, Rosen's men trash Lanvin's home and Lanvin gets
financing for the demo from Blanche, a greedy record company executive. Disaster strikes when Brooks, who has been performing badly and behaving strangely in the studio, calls Lanvin one night from a parking lot. When Lanvin goes to pick him up, he finds a distraught Brooks with the bloody body of
a prostitute he has killed in a psychotic rage. Lanvin takes Brooks home and cleans him up, keeping the murder a secret so he can continue recording the duo. Later, Lanvin is beaten senseless by Rosen's thugs. He awakens in the hospital to find Blanche beaming after hearing the demo and promising
to finance an album (with a loan from the ubiquitous Rosen). Lanvin goes to the musicians' home and finds them preparing to leave. He realizes now that Brooks has killed before and promises to help them if they will record the album. As the new sessions begin Lanvin is summoned by the Paris
police, who accuse him of having committed the murder. Still yearning for his big hit, Lanvin decides to take the rap just until the record is completed and confesses to Brooks's crime. Unfortunately, the musicians take off, leaving Lanvin to rot in jail. With Harari's help, however, he manages to
escape and find the duo, and a climactic shootout leaves Busia dead and Brooks under arrest for the murder. The film then flashes forward some years, as Lanvin, looking prosperous, visits Brooks in a mental hospital, bringing the idiot savant comic books and gum. Brooks then plays his sax for his
mentor, as the other patients gather in the courtyard to listen.
The second directorial effort from French producer Ariel Zeitoun (his first was 1984's SOUVENIRS, SOUVENIRS; he also cowrote here), SAXO is an uneasy mix of film noir premises and musical tribute a la ROUND MIDNIGHT (on which cinematographer Bruno de Keyzer also worked). The combination tends to
muddy motivations between both Lanvin's financial desperation and his respect for the Americans (especially Busia, with a suggested mutual attraction between the two) and their music. On the way to the improbable climax are other ridiculously complicated and implausible lapses, such as the means
of Lanvin's escape--involving a feigned illness by Harari so that Lanvin will be let out of jail to visit the "dying" man and get hold of Harari's gun--and the fact that Lanvin remains in torn, bloody clothes throughout his incarceration. More problematical is the characterization of Lanvin and
his regard of the black musicians. Clearly Lanvin is meant to be sincere in his love for the music. In being pushed to film noir extremes, he undergoes the kind of soul-deepening suffering that will allow him to finally "understand" the black musicians. But Lanvin would have to be crazy to
understand this duo, whose romantically aberrant genius is pushed way over the top. To show black artists as troubled victims of American racism--as in ROUND MIDNIGHT--is one thing; to show them as sexual psychopaths and murderers (there is also some suggestion of incest) is another. Thus a sadly
familiar, distinctly racist note pervades Zeitoun's romanticism. SAXO's performances range from hyperbolic (Brooks), to wooden (Busia, although she comes to life during the musical numbers), to one-note (Lanvin, whose hangdog look suggests little of his character's presumed drive). The blues
numbers are energetically performed offscreen by the late Roy Buchanan on guitar and Archie Shepp on sax; but they are slickly stylized (in a distinctly urban, rather than Mississippian, manner), filmed with little feeling for the music, and unconvincing as evidence of the couple's genius.
Ultimately, SAXO reveals an appreciation for black music about on the level of a Levi's 501 Blues commercial. Shown in festivals in the US in 1988. (In French; English subtitles.)
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- Released: 1988
- Rating: NR
- Review: Adapted from a novel by coscreenwriter Gilbert Tanugi, SAXO follows the misfortunes of a young Parisian music producer, Lanvin. As the film opens, Lanvin is seriously in debt to a loan shark named Rosen. When he can't pay up, Rosen's men set fire to a truc… (more)