Les Nuits Fauves
LES NUITS FAUVES
Director: Cyril Collard
Production: Banfilm Ter, La Sept Cinéma, Erre Produzioni, SNC, Sofinergie 2, CNC, Canal Plus, Procirep; color, 35mm; running time: 126 minutes.
Producer: Nella Banfi; screenplay: Cyril Collard, Jacques Fieschi, from the novel by Cyril Collard; photography: Manuel Teran; editor: Lise Beaulieu; assistant director: Jean-Jacques Jauffret; sound editors: Patrice Grisolet, Frédéric Attal; sound recording: Michel Brethez; costumes: Régine Arniaud.
Cast: Cyril Collard (Jean); Romane Bohringer (Laura); Carlos Lopez (Samy); Corine Blue (Laura's mother); Claude Winter (Jean's mother); René Marc Bini (Marc); Maria Schneider (Noria); Clémentine Célarié (Marianne); Laura Favali (Karine).
Toubiana, S., Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), October 1992.
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Powers, J., "Anything for Love," in New Yorker, vol. 27, 7 March 1994.
Nash, Mark, "Chronicle(s) of a Death Foretold: Notes Apropos of Les Nuits Fauves," in The Critical Quarterly (Hull), vol. 36, no. 1, Spring 1994.
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Feinstein, Howard, "Savage Nights," in Cineaste (New York), vol. 20, no. 4, 1994.
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Oscillating abruptly between a brash, visceral dramatic style, and a quieter, more lyrical mode, Cyril Collard's Les Nuits fauves is distinguished precisely by its bold eclecticism. Most obviously, it is a film that strategically dispenses with generic consistency, mixing melodramatic, often violent (and occasionally turgid) emotional excess with muted art cinema introspection. This narrative heterogeneity is further extended into the film's overall stylistic design, which skillfully combines quasi-documentary, cinema vérité techniques and their conventional effect of energetic spontaneity, with an intricate and meticulously orchestrated mise-en-scène. By way of this unique narrative and stylistic quilting, the film exploits the dynamic possibilities of juxtaposition to the full, almost revelling in the power and raw exhilaration of contrasting and clashing character events, emotions and styles. Thus, it succeeds in traversing a wide range of emotions and behaviors, from the hectic and volatile dimension of the lives of the main characters, instantiated in the liberal use of vérité devices such as a shaky, hand-held camera and fast-paced editing, to the more subtle and often enigmatic interactions between them. For example, the erotically charged first meeting between the central protagonist Jean and his girlfriend Laura stitches together the excitement of a free-wheeling camera with a carefully organized and reflective exchange of looks and words, played out through and around the viewfinder of Jean's video camcorder.
However, this calculated patchwork of styles and modes ultimately has a more important rationale. For Les Nuits fauves is ostensibly a film about a young man who discovers he is HIV positive. Yet it is also, deliberately, about a lot more besides, and it is the film's above mentioned eclecticism that enables it to refuse any easy identification or comfortable "AIDS film" label, a difficulty that was remarked upon by a number of both hostile and sympathetic reviewers on the film's release.
The narrative centers on Jean, a professional photographer living in Paris, who discovers that he has contracted the HIV virus following his return from a job in Morocco. At first, he seemingly refuses to come to terms with the virus, becoming involved with Laura, a young actress whom he meets at an audition for a commercial he is working on. They have sex without any protection, she being unaware of his HIV status. Meanwhile, Jean also continues having clandestine gay encounters, as well as a sexual relationship with Samy, an aggressive and narcissistic young bodybuilder who becomes increasingly involved with a group of violent fascists. Laura is angry when Jean finally tells her he is HIV positive, yet her emotional attachment to him becomes more and more intense and they begin living together. She also becomes increasingly possessive of Jean and jealous of his relationship with Samy. Returning from a short vacation, Laura finds Samy and Jean living together, and she reacts furiously. Jean begins AZT treatment and goes to visit his parents. Having confided his illness in his mother who consoles him, he deliberately speeds home and crashes his car.
Jean decides to end his relationship with Laura, who is now obsessed with him to the point of self-destruction. Having gone to live with her mother, she descends further and further into hysteria, occupying her time by phoning Jean and screaming insults at him. Finally, having claimed that she herself has contracted the HIV virus, she is taken to a psychiatric hospital, where tests reveal that she does not have the virus. Meanwhile, Jean encounters Samy and his gang of fascists one night, torturing a young Arab boy in the street, and he uses his infected blood as a weapon to rescue the boy. When he sees Laura again, she has nearly fully recovered and has a new boyfriend. She now accepts that her relationship with Jean is over, and they say good-bye to each other. Refusing to settle down and wait for the gradual onset of his illness, Jean travels to the desert, where he seems to find happiness and tranquillity through a lyrical, expressionistic affirmation of his own existence and the life around him.
In spite of its use of melodrama and emotional hyperbole, Les Nuits fauves is refreshingly original in its rejection of the two standard narrative options—victimization and deification—typical of melodramas that use illness as their point of departure, both of which, incidentally, figure prominently in Jonathan Demme's film Philadelphia which also deals with HIV and AIDS. Jean, played by Collard himself, who has since died of AIDS, is neither "victim" nor "saint," but is instead a complex creature, at once reckless with himself and with others, often cruel and calculating, having unprotected sex, for instance, with an unwitting Laura, almost killing himself in his passion for driving fast, and so on. Yet, he is also brimming full of love both for the people around him and for his world, a love that translates into a consuming, sensuous hunger for physical pleasure, companionship, and excitement, as well as an abiding moral concern for life and "things living" in general. In a sense, the narrative of Les Nuits fauves is driven by Jean's attempt to make sense of his contradictory nature, to find a common ground on which the seemingly irreconcilable elements of his identity might be unified. And it is certainly the urgency brought on by the HIV virus itself that impels this search. Yet, much more importantly, the HIV virus also functions in Les Nuits fauves as the catalyst for a tentative answer for Jean. Having initially refused to face his HIV status, Jean's denial turns into a conscious affirmation of life itself and the drive to experience life to the full which he exemplifies. Without a doubt, this Romantic "answer" to Jean's search—-his cathartic, rapturous immersion in life at the film's lyrical climax which is figured by fast, dizzying camera work and editing—-may strike many as clichéd and unsatisfactory. However, it should be recognized that Collard has effectively attempted to reinvent this well-worn Romantic cliché by appropriating it for the contemporary context of HIV and AIDS, within which it assumes a very different valence. For ultimately, it transforms Les Nuits fauves into a film that is not simply about HIV and the way it takes away life, but rather about what happens to a life when HIV enters into it.