In the Netherlands, the story has hardly been in the news, but in France it has been quite busy. The physicist Xavier Fortin who kidnaps his two young sons (aged 6 and 7) from their mother and is only found after eleven years in hiding. All this time, the man himself taught and prepared his sons for a life in which nature is central. The Fortin affair took an interesting tail when both mom and dad released their side of the story in book form. For the film adaptation “Vie Sauvage”, director Cédric Kahn has chosen to focus on the father. Which in no way means that he is taking sides. Far from it, even.
The film starts surprisingly with an action by mother Nora (Céline Sallette). She flees with her three sons from a holiday home on the edge of the forest, just as father Paco (Mathieu Kassovitz) is off by car. Unfortunately, the excitement that has been carried through in the camera work and editing will not or hardly return later in the film. While Paco and his two sons (the eldest, who has a different father, decide to stay with his mother) have been on the run from the police for more than ten years. The reason he’s taking his sons is that Nora is trying to get full custody through a court order.
Sons Tsali and Okyesa go with their father of their own free will when he says their mother wants to separate them from their father. So you could call it a voluntary kidnapping. And life in nature initially attracts the boys very much. Enjoy working on a small farm all day long, getting to know animal and plant names in the forest, and above all: not having to go to school. Although education is compulsory in France, Paco explains, going to school is not. So as long as he educates his children himself, he is not in violation. The kids also find it exciting to adopt a pseudonym and lying about their mother’s death is very easy for them.
For people unfamiliar with the story, the film provides little explanation. For example, it is often not clear whether Paco and his sons are already at a new location, let alone how much time has passed. At one point Paco has a new girlfriend, Céline (Jenna Thiam), but it is unclear how they got to know each other and what exactly she knows about Paco. The answer is, very little, given her surprise when it turns out that Paco’s ex-wife is still alive and Tsali and Okyesa have an older brother. At this point, the atmosphere of the film changes quite abruptly. From sunny days in nature, we suddenly go to a drizzly, gloomy spectacle.
Because eleven years are difficult to capture in one film, a considerable period is suddenly skipped. Tsali and Okyesa are suddenly almost grown up and appear to have developed a somewhat less idyllic relationship with their father. Tsali (Romain Depret) is pubescent, while Okyesa (Jules Ritmanic) tries to keep the peace. What is even more striking is that Paco hardly communicates with his sons on a normal level. He has stuck to his right to see his sons and ignores Nora’s pleas that come to him through the newspaper. While he maintains that he wants the best for his sons, he can’t stand it if Tsali wants to go on his own. But the film no longer offers enough space to elaborate on the conflict. After all, the public must also experience the reunification of Nora with her sons.
And then the relatively short playing time of about 100 minutes starts to take its revenge. All nuance disappears, just to complete the story. Looking back, you can ultimately only determine that you have been looking at a few separate scenes from a supposedly known story, without really getting any wiser. Despite the excellent acting performances, “Vie Sauvage” offers little room to bond emotionally to the characters. Moral and inner issues are only discussed a bit late in the film, but by that time you as a viewer have actually already lost contact with Paco and his sons.