Dir.: Camille Vidal-Naquet; Cast: Felix Maritaud, Eric Bernard, Marie Seux, Philippe Ohrel; France 2018, 99 min.
Felix Maritaud blazes through this stunning sortie into the life of young rent boys in Strasbourg, focusing on their aimless, dangerous and lonely lives. The harsh psychological realism is complimented by explicit sexual encounters, which often border on the abusive.
He plays Leo a rent boy in his early twenty who lives purely for the moment, using drugs, clients, petty crime and lots of day-dreaming to get through each day. That changes when he meets Ahd (Reinard), a fellow male prostitute and falls in love with him. Leo is not worried that Ahd is actually looking for a ‘sugar-daddy’ long term, and asks Leo to do the same: “That’s the best that can happen to us”. But Leo is stubborn, chasing Ahd down and endangering his relationship with an older man. After being sexually assaulted by two others who cheat him out of his money to boot, Ahd does Leo a last favour, beating up one of them and stealing his money, which he shares with Leo. But all the stress has taken its toll on Leo’s health, and a female physician (Seux), one of the few women in the feature, consoles him with maternal affection. This scene stands out in contrast to the film’s opener, when Leo is examined by a ‘doctor’, who turns out to be a client working for the IRS, who enjoys the role play. After Ahd has left for Benidorm with his lover, Leo finally follows his advice- after a particularly brutal (off-screen) encounter with a client known for his sadistic tendencies. His middle-class ‘protector’ Claude (Ohrel) wants to take him to Montreal for a new start in life – but does Leo really wants to be saved?
Leo shows all the symptoms of emotional regression due to neglect: he is a doleful child looking for love in all the wrong places, because society has marginalised him. Sauvage is not just about sex: it also shows the tenderness in a gay relationship, particularly when Leo goes with a man old enough to be his father: Leo cuddles him, both men getting more out of the encounter than penetration alone would have provided. But Leo is already a very fragmented character: he spends hours alone in the woods near the male gang’s pick-up place, and then over-compensates with hectic behaviour at parties and in dance clubs. His day dreams of emotional security are shattered in reality – and he has himself to blame. Solitude is his way back into childhood, while his waking hours are a nightmare of humiliation and deception. Leo doesn’t know how to connect these two selves, and the lack of concurrent identity makes him alien to himself.
SAUVAGE is an impressive first feature for writer and director Camille Vidal-Naquet. DoP Jacques Girault contrasts Leo’s dual existence with nightmarish images of the time spent with his clients, the aimless wandering in the streets, and the haven of tranquillity in the sunny woods. Vidal-Naquet is always non-judgemental, avoiding sentimentality at all costs. The result is a rather melancholic walk on the wild side. AS
ON RELEASE FROM 1 MARCH 2019 NATIONWIDE