If a movie’s quality were measured by its courage, Savage Nights, a rebellious celebration of unsafe sex and suicidal romantic passion in the age of AIDS, would have to be reckoned some sort of liberating achievement. Written and directed by its star, Cyril Collard, who died of AIDS last year at the age of 35, Savage Nights tells the story of Jean, a bisexual Paris filmmaker who responds to the news that he’s HIV-positive by continuing to live as if there’s no tomorrow.
Between compulsive bouts of cruising, Jean carries on two affairs: one with Samy (Carlos Lopez), a hunky jock, the other with Laura (Romane Bohringer), a haughtily precocious 17-year-old who’s horrified when she learns that Jean has knowingly exposed her to his infection-but who develops such a masochistic fixation on him that she later insists on removing his condom before sex. In an era when the cautious pieties of Philadelphia can count as a breakthrough, there’s a temptation to celebrate Collard’s outlaw fervor. So it’s with regret that I report that, as a movie, Savage Nights is awful: messy, grandiose, emotionally dishonest.
Collard tries to play Jean as a blase narcissist disconnected from his own pain, but the result is that his grinning beagle face (imagine a Gallic Richard Lewis) registers little beyond a kind of poster-boy smugness. When Jean hotrods through the Paris freeways, the film achieves a glib, sports-car- commercial lyricism; when he has to interact with people, it falls into a cold stupor. Bohringer brings mournful shadings to the role of Laura, but the character’s operatic self-destruction seems determined less by anything a bourgeois French girl would actually do than by Collard’s desire to turn the doomed Jean into a studly saint. As a heat-seeking last testament, Savage Nights may, on some level, be a work of amoral boldness, but it also demonstrates that piety can take many forms. C-