Sauvage is Camille Vidal-Naquet’s relentless view of the extreme lifestyle of a male prostitute, starring Félix Maritaud.
Wild Thingby Alexa Dalby
CAUTION: Here be spoilers
Félix Maritaud (120 BPM) is a compelling sexual presence in Sauvage, never off screen. Young and beautiful, he is a gay male prostitute with a feral look in his eyes. We never learn his name (though he’s credited as Léo) but through interview scenes with doctors we learn that he is 22. Sauvage forcibly immerses us in his sometimes brutal world.
Sauvage starts with a wry twist that plunges us right into his lifestyle and the film continues fast, furious and relentlessly with director Camille Vidal-Naquet’s hand-held camera constantly probing. Set in Strasbourg, it shows Léo and other men touting themselves by the roadside, ever watchful, and their squabbles and fights. We see Léo’s unrequited attachment to a stronger, violent, protective man (a dangerously unpredictable Eric Bernard) who advises him to find an older man to live with for an easy life. But it’s a life on the edge that Léo seems not to want to leave, he survives rough and degrading treatment, extreme sex, and he even accepts teaming up with another gay man to rob a naive client, but he’s also capable of being caring and gentle, as when he lets an elderly widower sleep in his arms.
The film is cyclical, with rounds of sessions with doctors and sequences of letting go, dancing in strobe-lit clubbing – yet with each cycle Léo seems to be sinking lower and lower: dirtier, more desperate, his clothing more torn, drinking from gutters, sleeping in the street and accepting riskier business. He can’t conceive of a different lifestyle – why would he give up crack, what else would he do?. Yet sometimes he’s unexpectedly vulnerable: he suddenly hugs the non-judgemental female doctor who is sounding his chest for TB symptoms and he lies down on her examination couch as if he is a child ready for bed.
Sauvage is the result of three years’ research by the director. It feels brilliantly authentic and disturbing, perhaps sometimes in the sex scenes verging on being uncomfortably voyeuristic. Yet it’s also an unflinching window on a sub-culture populated by men who each have a different reason for being part of it. Vidal-Naquet never takes the easy way out with Léo. He’s both a victim and a villain, both kind and callous, and we have to try and understand what drives him – perhaps for him being a male ‘whore’, as he terms himself, is his type of existential freedom. For as long as his short life lasts.
Sauvage premiered at the Cannes Film Festival and opens in select cinemas nationwide in the UK on 1st March. Q&A previews also run from 26 February. More info at http://www.sauvage.film