Coming on the heels of the sentimental PHILADELPHIA, it was predictable that SAVAGE NIGHTS would be heralded as a tough-minded AIDS movie--one that dares to address the complicity of some victims in the transmission of the disease. The film has a fascinating, trenchant first hour,
collapses of its own weight before the end, and lingers like a bad dream--to its credit.
Jean (director Cyril Collard) is an HIV-positive, bisexual filmmaker who drowns his anxiety in passion. He auditions 17-year-old boutique clerk Laura (Romane Bohringer), who fails the screen test but becomes Jean's lover. Almost concurrently, Jean auditions and seduces Samy (Carlos Lopez), who
hustles tricks at Mr. Andre's, a louche, anything-goes bordello. Despite developing KS lesions, Jean pursues Laura; at first she doesn't quibble over his admission of bisexuality. After he and Samy have a failed menage with a Swiss streetwalker, he confesses his health status to Laura, but she
refuses to allow a condom to interfere with their passion.
This ambitious, passionate movie means to shock its audience. Collard, who was himself struggling with AIDS as he shot the film, may have regarded it as a final statement, and accordingly tried to make it as bold as possible--perhaps to a fault. Often his actors (including himself) project grand
Parisian posturing rather than suffering, and Collard's screenplay lets Bohringer's character rant on to the point of irritation about what she will soon be missing (namely Collard--it's as though a Greek chorus were lamenting his charms). Nor does the film's golden, overly pretty cinematography
do much to strengthen its story line.
NIGHTS swept France's Cesar Awards: Best Debut Film, Best Editing, Best Female Newcomer (Romane Bohringer), and Best Picture of the Year. Collard's death of AIDS complications at age 35, three days before the awards, added a mythic, poignant touch to NIGHTS' day in the sun.
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