Nelly (Catherine Deneuve) is going to be married in a few short days' time, to a rich Italian called Vittori (Luigi Vannucchi), but while he is super keen for the big day, after he has a big party with his friends and family to celebrate the wedding before it has even happened, as night falls Nelly decides she's had enough of this and packs up whatever she can into a canvas bag then heads off as fast as her legs will carry her into the streets of Caracas in Venezuela where she was supposed to be spending her years of marital bliss. She hails a taxi to a hotel, taking a room which just happens to be next to the one French expatriate Martin (Yves Montand) is residing in, neither of them knowing the other will feature significantly in their respective lives from now on...
A downright peculiar, almost unclassifiable romantic comedy - sort of - from director Jean-Paul Rappeneau before he settled into gaining international acclaim with his period dramas such as the much-lauded Cyrano de Bergerac, Le Sauvage exploited its exotic locations to presumably offer the cast and crew a nice holiday into the bargain of making a movie, taking in Venezuela, the Bahamas and New York City, though the latter looks a trifle chilly for the time of year. An eighties Hollywood remake would have probably starred Goldie Hawn as the crazy Nelly, it was that sort of thing, but as it was we had the novelty of watching Catherine Deneuve behave far outwith the ice queen demeanour you might have been accustomed to.
Indeed, her character had the quality of sending the others in her path completely round the bend, transforming seemingly sensible people into outright maniacs thanks to her erratic nature. Her fiancé races after her and is given a tip-off that Nelly is at the hotel, which leads to scenes resembling a forties Hollywood screwball comedy, one of the many tonal lurches Rappeneau was intent on creating, apparently in desperation to secure the audience's rapt attention throughout: "Bored?!" he appears to be asking, "There's no way in the universe you'll be bored watching this!!!" Yes, he probably would use three exclamation marks, it was that type of movie. Anyway, one thing leads to another and soon Nelly is on the run from Vittori with the assistance of Martin.
It's not only Vittori who is in hot pursuit, as her boss Alex Fox (Tony Roberts), for whom she apparently pulls off dodgy deals so that they may profit handsomely, wants to catch her too as Nelly insists he owes her money (we're not sure if he does or not, that's how capricious she is) and steals a Toulouse-Lautrec painting from his office as recompense which he spends the rest of the story trying to retrieve. This leads to an action-packed car chase on a Caracas highway, well, relatively, from which our heroine - or is she an anti-heroine? - manages to get to the airport, and promptly flies out of the country, headed for Paris. The end. Oops, no, that's not the end, we're only half an hour in and already you'd be forgiven for being exhausted, but we still have the tropical island of Martin's to visit.
Martin has a past he wanted to get away from, you see, so is living on an island growing his own fruit and veg in a region of his retreat that looks curiously like a French valley. Once back there, he is alarmed to see the mad woman he was hoping to be shot of there too, as Nelly couldn't get on the plane with the painting, so has opted to fly out on a seaplane to the island to ponder her next move. Meanwhile, Vittori and Alex are scheming away... If it was scenery you wanted, there were parts of Le Sauvage (did the title refer to Deneuve or Montand, we wonder?) that looked very attractive, with azure seas, golden beaches and verdant foliage rendering Martin's home something of a paradise on Earth. But mostly you would be worn down by the sheer wealth of incident which saw an inevitable romance develop between the two lead characters, but also scenes that would not be out of place in an adventure flick predicting the success of Romancing the Stone and its ilk. To see Deneuve out of her element as a manic personality befuddling a suave Montand, was... interesting. Music by Michel Legrand.