Vidal-Naquet’s debut feature is tough, uncompromising and at times uncomfortable viewing mixed with moments of pure humanity and emotion. From the outset it is clear that Sauvage has no intention of glamourising street based male prostitution, but equally will not judge or attach broad brush social messages to it. This is 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 to maintain his life. This depiction of a young homeless man earning money the only way he knows how is tough but also honest. 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 is part of a capitalist culture where everything has its price but often no worth. However, there are also scenes of tenderness and love, showing Leo as a young man who understands the barriers between physical and emotional contact. His scenes with a bereaved older gentleman are highly emotional, showing humanity in the face of a transactional relationship.
Felix Maritaud is outstanding in this role, his performance feels real throughout; emotive yet distant and utterly compelling. His portrayal of a young man who longs for love while also understanding his place in his surroundings is stunning in its complexity.
Vidal-Naquet spent many years volunteering with charities engaging with street working boys and men, and this is clear in the delivery of Sauvage. At times the film has an almost documentary style of delivery. The handheld camera moving with its characters, providing intimacy while not being afraid to show the blood, sweat and dirt of their lives. Professional support figures who could help Leo are portrayed as well meaning and caring but ultimately naive to the life Leo has. They lack the ability to see Leo’s world through his eyes, leaving Leo void of the professional support he needs, and reliant on his peer group for care. 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.
As a first feature Vidal-Naquet gives us a truly immersive and challenging film, clearly born from understanding and research.
Sauvage is hard hitting and powerful filmmaking with performances to match. This is a film that isn’t 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.