A naive children’s game catapulted into the realms of the terrifying, Jeremy Comtés award-winning short-film and Oscar nominated Fauve is a refreshing take on the fragility of childhood innocence.

Close your eyes. Take a moment to draw from the recesses of your mind a memory of childhood summers.

Remember the elation that came with freedom? The excitement of grabbing your best friend by their shirt sleeve and running off into the seemingly endless expanse of possibility? The laughter.

Now, holding that in your mind, allow a memory of your worst childhood fear to flood in. Let it overwhelm you with a vice-like grip, let yourself acquiesce to the claustrophobic panic.

If you’ve managed to do that successfully, you have gained an insight into some of the emotions at the heart of Jeremy Comtés award-winning short film Fauve.

Set in the vast and unchanging landscape of a surface mine in rural Quebec, Fauve is a tale of two young boys exploring the boundaries between control and recklessness. What starts off as an innocent game of one-upmanship quickly turns into a tragic lesson for those unwitting enough to stray into Mother Nature’s unflinching embrace.

For Comté, director and editor, the film’s narrative is a personal one, inspired by a childhood nightmare in which he found himself trapped in the same scenario portrayed in Fauve’s climactic moments.

Raised in the Quebec countryside and with no other entertainment, Comté and his friends often used to take walks in the woods and play pranks on each other. He tells me he wanted to explore the relationship between children’s ‘animalistic’ impulses and the power of nature. More importantly, the consequences when “one of those innocent jokes goes wrong.”

It seems only fitting, then, that Comté would choose to tell the story from the perspective of two young protagonists, Tyler and Benjamin. The ease with which Felix Grenier and Alexandre Perreault take command of their roles is, at times, unsettling.

Listening to their unstilted conversation, it conjures up an uncanny portrayal of those universal childhood interactions that were so effortless. This utterly absorbing, relatable script and flawless delivery make the contrasts in the narrative even more stark.

The distinct lack of adult characters coupled with the overwhelming feeling their surroundings, nature, is present as a character on its own. It seeks only to exemplify the feeling this is not just a game between two children, but a battle with something much bigger.

The cinematography plays a crucial part in immersing the audience in this tension. The transition from a hand-held camera in the first half to a fixed angle in the second mirrors the boys’ journey from a carefree, wild bubble to the darker, inescapable reality.

Comté tells me the shooting style was an integral part of portraying this message because “you see the tragedy and we were not trying to hide anything.”

Fauve Review Miro

Alexandre Perreault and Félix Grenier in Fauve

At times, the camera work seems to be an optical illusion. What is initially a close-up of an indistinct patch of earth abruptly becomes a gigantic sand dune, made apparent only by a minuscule, almost invisible figure scrambling down from the top of the shot.

The constant veering between playfulness and severity, certainty and unpredictability is as confusing as the monotonous landscape itself, something which Comté says he and Olivier Gosset, Director of Photography, used to their advantage.

What makes Fauve interesting is the way it speaks to a universal experience many of us can relate to but one that is becoming obsolete. As technology takes a greater hold on younger generations, many childhood experiences are simulated on screen and not in the real world.

Does that theme of control, the contradiction of those two forces, extend into these new manifestations of childhood? “There’s a lot of positive elements to technology and its super organic in some ways too,” said Comté, “but it’s so much about self-control. You can get lost in the vortex of technology and I don’t think kids are being taught that.”

Fauve has received global critical acclaim, picking up over 65 awards worldwide and a nomination for an Oscar as Best Live Action Short Film. Comté said the best part touring film global film festivals is the emotional reactions at screenings and being able to talk with the audience: “There’s so much love around the world, and that’s really amazing.”

Fans will be pleased to hear Comté is in the process of collaborating with Ghanaian writer, Will Niava, on his first feature film. If Fauve is anything to go by, his new work is one to keep an eye on.

See if Fauve takes home the Oscar for Best Live Action Short Film at the ceremony on Sunday 24 February 2019. 

Verdict: ★★★★★