Savage State (L’Etat Sauvage) (2021)

A French family settled in the United States decides to leave home during the Civil War with the help of a man of unclear past. Soon, someone is seemingly after them as they make their trek across the land as best they can.

Written and directed by David Perrault, Savage State is a French take on the United States during the Civil War as well as a sort of a French Western. The ideas at play here are interesting, but the pace of the film, especially in the second half, is slow and then slower than slow. It may have been on purpose, but what it ends up doing, instead of what it may have been aiming at, is get the viewer to stop paying attention and lose track of the story. This means that, unfortunately, it becomes a film that is harder to watch as it doesn’t keep the attention while the other aspects of it are fairly on point.

One of these aspects is the cast, they are good, most of them bilingual with accents either in English or in French, making it clear they are not native speakers and giving their characters realism. The acting here is good, but it must noted that the range given to the characters is limited, thus limiting the actors chances at showing nuance and what they can really do. Alice Isaaz as Esther does manage to come up on top with her character and her acting, keeping the attention a bit more when she is on screen. Also doing well and keeping some of the attention are Kevin Janssens as Victor, Armelle Abibou as Layla, and Kate Moran as Bettie. These folks give their all here and make the film more interesting in the process, even in the longer scenes and sequences.

Another good aspect of the film is the wardrobe, the costumes here are done with a good attention to details and seem to be historically accurate (though one might question the prevalence of the color white in that time period). The work by Véronique Gely here is great and helps give the film more realism throughout.

Visually, the film is good with some beautiful sequences in the great outdoors that are stunning and really set the ton for the story. The cinematography by Christophe Duchange and the editing by Maxime Pozzi-Garcia team up to create this and make the most of all the locations. The music to support this is sometimes just right and sometimes it just feels off, this is the work of Sébastien Perrault who does good work for most of the films, but a few scenes just feel way off.

Overall, Savage State is a pretty to look at, historical drama that wants to be more, but gets lost in the length of the film, the longer scenes and sequences that could have used being written or edited tighter. There is a good film in here, but it ultimately gets lost in the overly long run time.