'The Pure Life' ('La Vie Pure'): Montreal Review

True story is psychologically sensitive while capturing small pleasures of exploration

A barely grown explorer takes on the Amazon solo

MONTREAL – Pitched somewhere between a Herzogian epic, Into the Wild and Boys' Life magazine, Jeremy Banster's La Vie Pure recreates the true story of an idealistic young Frenchman who set off alone in 1949 to find a fabled land that he heard legends of at his father's knee. Established from the outset as a trip that will end in mystery, Banster's account (based on the journal of the expedition, which was recovered and later published) is not so shadowed by doom that it fails to capture the thrill of naively thrusting into the unknown. A sympathetic performance by co-writer Stany Coppet helps the film, which merits the attention of U.S. distributors even if it is unlikely to set the box office afire.

Coppet's Raymond Maufrais is the kind of young man for whom childhood enthusiasms have taken root instead of fading. Having been told of the Tumuk Humak Mountains in French Guyana, where supposedly no man had ventured save for a strange tribe of Indians, he made that the Grail of his eventual career as a self-styled discoverer of new lands. "I'm an explorer," he will tell strangers throughout his journey, as if the words are a key, and in fact they are: From his six-month expedition's start in a colonial outpost onward to Amazonian "camps" that are little more than a few hammocks where travelers' paths might cross, those words and his evident goodwill elicit help from strangers, some of whom admit him to exotic ceremonies.

The road film-like progression of brief friendships eventually gives way to solitude and desperation at the far reaches of where Maufrais is known to have gone; fixing his camera to the actor's torso, Banster makes an anachronistic but effective attempt to capture the man's near-feral state after far too long without food. Coppet is frightening toward the end, but an increasing focus on Raymond's father's effort to find him (we've been flash-forwarding throughout to his parents' attempts, after being sent his recovered journal, to mount a rescue) keep our focus on the bright man he so recently was. The elder Maufrais would make 18 expeditions over a dozen years to find his son, but only his journal and the Amazon remain.

Production company: Cantina Studio
Cast: Stany Coppet, Aurelien Recoing, Daniel Duval, Alex Descas, Barbara Cabrilla
Director: Jeremy Banster
Screenwriters: Jeremy Banster, Stany Coppet
Producers: Jeremy Banster, Olivier Compere, Fabien Montagner
Director of photography: Rudy Harbon
Production designer: Pierre-Francois Limbosch
Editor: Fabien Montagner
Music: Nathaniel Mechaly

No rating, 93 minutes

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