Summer, 1943. Nanette is a solitary 14-year old girl whose family owns a farm in
a remote region of rural France. One day, she encounters a handsome young man who
has suffered a slight injury to his foot. Named Claude, he reveals that he is an
English soldier and appeals to Nanette to shelter him from the Nazis. Although she
has been brought up to hate the English (her family are staunch Pétain supporters),
Nanette takes him to her father's farm and finds him a hiding place in a disused attic.
Whilst he is recovering, Nanette brings him food and keeps him amused. In no time, Nanette
realises that she is in love with Claude, but he is insistent that he must find a French
resistance group. Reluctantly, Nanette asks around the village and finds various
contacts for Claude. When he has gone, the love-struck adolescent is bitter and
betrays him to the police. A short while later, the countryside around her is filled
with the sound of gunfire and explosions. She is captured by a Nazi soldiers and
taken to their commanding officer. Standing before her is her beloved Claude, dressed
in the uniform of a senior Nazi officer…
Acclaimed writer Michel Mardore made his directorial début with this crude but
chillingly effective portrayal of Faustian corruption of innocence. The World War
II trappings provide a convenient backdrop for a familiar tale, one in which a blameless
innocent is ensnared by the Devil in human flesh, and gradually led towards committing
a crime of unspeakable horror. Despite some noticeable imperfections in the
script, the direction and the acting, Le Sauveur
is a compelling and disturbing work which plays on the spectator's emotions to great effect.
The story is told predominantly from the perspective of the young Nanette - so we
gain a keen appreciation of her feelings as the drama unfolds. First the ennui before
meeting Claude, then the suspicion and excitement that the stranger arouses, then the
insane passion that is love, to be followed by spiteful loathing when Claude leaves her,
and so on. This one-person perspective allows the film's last twenty minutes to
have their full dramatic force. What we see would have been shocking enough, but
to have such empathy with Nanette's feeling of complicity in what happens just adds another
dimension of brutal emotional engagement. Perhaps Mardore's biggest mistake was
to tack on an implausible epilogue which allows Nanette to redeem herself. A final
parting shot of Nanette witnessing the Nazi brutality at its worst, and realising her
part in all this, would have had far greater impact than what is actually shown.
The casting of Nanette was a last minute decision. Isabelle Adjani was considered
for the role but at the last moment it was given to Muriel Catalá, her first film
part in a surprisingly short career. More controversial was Mardore's decision to
cast Horst Buchholz in the role of Claude. Although the devastatingly handsome Buchholz
had had a hugely successful career in Germany, he was not favoured by the critics.
Mardore's judgement paid off, however. In Le Sauveur
Horst Buchholz is easily seductive as the English soldier he initially pretends
to be, but then horrifyingly evil as the Nazi officer he becomes in the film's latter
half - truly a performance to send a chill down the spine.
The film's dramatic
ending was inspired by a real life event - an horrific act of Nazi purging that took place
in the town of Oradour-sur-Glane, in the Haute-Vienne region of France on 10th June 1944.
As they retreated from the advancing allied forces, a regiment of German soldiers took
the time to round up and execute the inhabitants of the town - an act of mindless brutality
which has not been explained to this day.
© James Travers
The above article was written for filmsdefrance.com and should not be reproduced in any medium without the author's permission.
Other drama/war films of the 1970s from France that are worth watching include: Louis Malle's Lacombe Lucien
Laurent Heynemann's La Question
Yves Boisset's R.A.S.
Jacques Doillon's Un sac de billes
Robert Enrico's Le Vieux fusil