Camille Vidal-Naquet’s directorial debut, Sauvage, charts the scattered life of Léo (Félix Maritaud), a 22-year-old gay male prostitute. We haphazardly dart through the streets watching him solicit men. The work simultaneously bleeds with grittiness and aches with love for the battered man-child. In an unrestrained fashion, the director manages to explore, perhaps too explicitly at times, heavy-content concerning homelessness, prostitution, unrequited love and sexual violence.
There is an attempted playfulness in the story. Vidal-Naquet coyly drags us between doctor’s offices. Some are the location for orchestrated role-play and others for disconcerting examinations of Léo’s ominous cough (his wheezing soundtracks an otherwise quiet film). Jacques Girault’s hand-held camera work gives the feature a purposeful amateur edge and intentional intimacy. It is delicately filmed, only occasionally invasive and decently-paced. The camera slips in and reveals the murky underbelly of Léo and his counterparts’ lives.
Félix Maritaud assumes the role spectacularly. He remains infinitely innocent in the most explicit of situations. In one instance, he is convinced to drug and steal from an unsuspecting client. Rather than go for the valuables, he takes a stapler to mend his ratty clothes. Maritaud evokes a wide-eyed lack of understanding of the unwritten rules of his trade. He operates on the outskirts of an already ostracised group. Longing for connection, he hopes for tender kisses only to be rejected – most painfully by his fellow prostitute Ahd (Eric Bernard).
As its title suggests Sauvage is inherently unruly. Its form and content both messily unravel. Vidal-Naquet toys with his audience that Léo will lift himself out of the street. Instead, the plot circles around and around. It’s not enough to tire the viewer but there is little movement forward. Too, the movie is never totally brutal. There is a boundary drawn limiting what is revealed on screen. However, the continual graphic content is so pervasive and the emotional arc so gut-wrenching that we must jump immediately on board to find joy in the film. Even in the non-sexual encounters, there is endless nudity. Léo constantly rips off his shirt, his clothes seems to restrict him as all societal norms do. He is wild and feral and can only function as such.
Sauvage is released in select cinemas on 1st March 2019.
Watch the trailer for Sauvage here: