PHOEBE BENFIELD reviews Cédric Kahn’s film Vie Sauvage, premiering at London’s BFI.

Wild Life, or Vie Sauvage in its original French title, is based on the true story of a nomadic family set amidst the irresistible scenery of southern France. Premiering at this year’s BFI London Film Festival in the ‘Love’ category, the film is an exploration of family, ideologies, and the way these change with age.

From French director Cédric Kahn, Wild Life follows Phillipe ‘Paco’ Fournier (Mathieu Kassovitz) and his wife Nora (Céline Sallette) as a couple who have rejected society for a familial life amongst the simplicity of nature. Three children later and the dream is shattered as Nora packs her bags, with children in tow, to leave her husband behind and return to a ‘normal’ life.

What ensues is a custody battle as the father takes back his two youngest children and retreats into the wilderness; however, any legal issues are swiftly sidelined. Nevertheless, Kahn immerses us into the charming world Paco creates for his sons, both through his crisp cinematography and his wonderful portrayal of a father’s unerring love for his sons.


Whilst unconventional, the storytelling – told through the eyes of the father – brings a new element to the film, predominantly owing to Mathieu Kassovitz’s faultless performance as Paco. Little time is given to the mother’s struggle, as Kahn instead opts to dwell on the story of Paco and his sons. Inevitably, as the children hit adolescence, they begin to question their upbringing and start to succumb to the lure of girls and the material world.

There are numerous elements which make Wild Life both an emotional and incredibly enjoyable experience. Visually, the film is superb and the acting does not disappoint either. Whilst Kassovitz maintains a triumphant performance throughout, Khan introduces us to four very exciting talents. As the excitable and reckless youngsters, Tsali (David Gastou) and Okysa (Sofiane Neveu) provide endearing performances, brilliantly portraying the innocence and curiosity of their age. Ten years on, Romain Depret’s 19 year-old Tsali packs the angst with a punch, and raises an interesting question about what would have been best for the children, something often forgotten amidst the enthralling nature of their earlier lives.

On the surface, Wild Life is the story of a father’s unconditional love and fight for his sons, but given an intriguing twist by his desire to protect them from the lures of society. Visually beautiful, thought-provoking and emotionally turbulent throughout, it gives a unique insight into the struggles of a single father.

Director: Cédric Kahn
Starring: Mathieu Kassovitz, Céline Sallette, Romain Depret, Jules Ritmanic
Running time: 102 minutes
Release date: 29th October (France) TBC worldwide