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Good Savage

Two American artists seek solace and inspiration in neighbouring Mexico, in this quirky comedy mocking the obsessions of liberals (and with Wes Anderson's trademarks all over) - from the Rebels With a Cause Competition of the 27th Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival


Out of all the film genres on offer to the world, comedy has a shout at being the most difficult to master. At the end of the day, comedy is subjective, but if it’s not doing its sole purpose of… you know, making people laugh, then it’s not successful, is it? Absurdist comedies though, now they push the boundaries of the genre by attempting to be humorous in a way that many people out there just don’t understand. Good Savage, a dual Mexican/American film from director Santiago Mohar Volkow is an absurdist comedy premiering at this year’s Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival in the Rebels with a Cause competition. It’s an offbeat story that heavily emphasizes its need for satire, while also trying to avoid the pitfalls that come with the genre by not becoming cheap and cheesy.

The biggest hurdle that Good Savage struggles to overcome is its problem with identity because from quite early on, all you can think about is Wes Anderson. Yes, it feels like a knockoff, of an Anderson film; the symmetry, the colour palate, the way in which it is framed, and even how the characters act, share similarities with the cult director’s films. Lending so much creative inspiration could have been the film’s biggest downfall, and yet, weirdly, the longer the story stretches out, the more it comes into its own. Good Savage is a little bonkers; full of zest, very offbeat, and extremely quirky, but even though it lacks overall comedy, I’d be lying if I said there weren’t several moments spread throughout the film that take you by surprise and produce a smirk or two – honestly now, that’s the truth of the matter.

Split over six chapters, Good Savage follows an American couple who, after feeling the stresses of their normal lives, seek solstice in the shape of a getaway to a remote Mexican ranch. Maggie (Naian González Norvind) hopes to discover some inspiration for her upcoming book, a project she has only but a mere title for (so she says anyway) while her filmmaker husband Jesse (Andrew Leland Rogers, who also acts as co-writer with Volkow) has his aim sighted at creating an experimental masterpiece, much to Maggie’s disdain. Not only are their creative juices not bubbling in the correct manner, but there’s a strain on their marriage which is also causing a fallout between the two.

The couple come into contact with a lovely local man called Meliton (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo), who befriends the couple but secretly plans to scam them out of money, with the naïve Jesse succumbing to the man’s charm – although, he does manage to collaborate with Melition and a few locals to film some scenes for his new picture, which result in some of the film’s highlights. Maggie, meanwhile, is enjoying her own journey that often bends the concept of reality and develops into something quite surreal and very mystical. It doesn’t take long before the news of Jesse’s directing exploits attracts the attention of the local Narcos boss, Don Chelo (Dario Yazbek Bernal), which is when the surreal really gets cranked up a notch.

What Good Savage does have going in its favour is that it never takes itself seriously, and that’s why it steadily begins to fall into place as the minutes roll by. It’s just one big sardonic joke that uses the lives of the pretentious liberals as the butt of it all. All the characters are caricaturists, whether it’s the depiction of the Americans who ride into town and make it all about themselves with their hipster antics, or even the representation of the Mexicans who are seen as friendly but sly, an amalgamation of all the Hollywood portrayals over the years. All the cliches are there, with a backwards cap wearing Jesse just being the cherry on the top.

For all of the film’s adequate qualities, Good Savage really is an acquired taste though. The dialogue (especially in the opening third) lets the film down quite a bit; it is starved of refinement, it feels repetitive and simple, and it lacks any kind of skill or imagination. And then there’s the actual story, which largely feels messy with its uneven timeline lacking cohesion and engagement. Absurdist comedies will often succumb to the tribulations of bad acting, poor writing, and confusing stories because, well, they rely on the absurd. However, for large parts of the film, it’s just not enough to keep things interesting and the tacky label dangles over the film like an old carrot in front of a tired Mexican mule.

It’s not a bad little outing for Santiago Mohar Volkow though, even if it does borrow a lot of stylistic techniques from other more notable quirky comedic films. Good Savage’s enjoyable aspects allow it to somewhat move out of the shadow of Anderson’s films and make something for itself. Granted, this sub-genre of filmmaking is tricky, comedy is a difficult beast to tame in general due to its broad scope of endless possibilities, but knowing the limitations from the beginning can allow the creators to have free reign on the project and ease the pressure to make it “funny”. Take this film with a pinch of salt and you might find it rather enjoyable – you won’t be bored anyway, that’s a given.

Good Savage just premiered in the Rebels With a Cause Competition of the 27th Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival.

By John McDonald - 17-11-2023

Failing from the seaside town of Southport but now living in Liverpool, John McDonald has had a passion for cinema since he was a small child. The westerns of John Wayne were his gateway into the cine...

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