Vidal-Naquet’s debut feature is tough, uncompromising and at times uncomfortable viewing. Mixing the pain and turmoil of street prostitution with moments of humanity and emotion. From the outset Sauvage has no intention of glamourising male prostitution, but equally does not seek to judge. Consequently ensuring that broad brush social messages do not apply to its narrative. Providing us with a brave and refreshing take on a subject often pigeonholed into moralistic filmmaking.
Sauvage follows young street hustler Leo (Felix Maritaud) as he works the streets of Strasbourg. His only security being the trade of his own body in a life of homelessness. However, Leo does not condemn himself for his actions; he knows his ‘work’ and understands his role in a society where young men can be brought and sold. The trading of sex for money merely a part of a capitalist culture where everything has its price. One where Leo not only understands the barriers between physical and emotional contact. But also uses his position to provide the comfort and solace needed for those who pay for his companionship.
Leo is brought to life with a sublime and complex central performance from Felix Maritaud. The realities of the life his character endures front and centre in every scene, with an emotive yet distant performance.
Prior to directing Sauvage, Vidal-Naquet spent many years volunteering with charities. Using this time to engage with a range of boys and men who sold their bodies on the streets of France. Consequently providing Sauvage with an almost documentary-like realism. The handheld camera following the action with intimacy. While also not being afraid to show the blood, sweat and dirt of their lives.
Meanwhile, the professional social support available to Leo is portrayed as well-meaning, but ultimately naive to the life Leo leads. Each one lacking the ability to see Leo’s world through his eyes, in turn leaving him in a void of care. His base needs reliant on a peer group, who themselves struggle to rise above their turmoil. Displaying a life where drugs are merely an escape route. A crutch that provides moments of joy and escapism in a world where weeks are unstructured and days merge into one.
Sauvage is a hard-hitting and powerful film with performances to match. Never afraid to show male prostitution in all its grim reality, while also demonstrating moments of tenderness and love. Sauvage never glamourises nor judges, leaving the audience to ultimately decide its core messages.
Director: Camille Vidal-Naquet