Sauvage is a new film out now via streaming services and on DVD that tells the story of a young French rentboy. Boyz film critic Jack Cline examines this earthy gay drama that pulls no punches in its portrayal of this seedier side of gay life.
A pair of new French talents teamed up to make the earthy gay drama Sauvage, a strikingly truthful look into the life of Leo, a young street escort in Paris. At 46 after making two shorts, writer-director Camille Vital-Naquet has taken prizes at several festivals, while 26-year-old lead actor Felix Maritaud won the Rising Star Award at last year’s Cannes Film Festival. The rest of the cast is a mix of professional actors and people brought in to add an improvised quality, reacting naturally to what’s happening in the scenes. There’s certainly never a sense that anyone on-screen is “acting”, especially with the intimate hand-held camerawork.
Vidal-Naquet’s original idea for the film was to tell the story of someone looking for love in all the wrong places. He liked the idea of making him a street hustler, so he set out to do some research. “I went to meet the young rentboys of the Bois de Boulogne,” he says, “and spent three years with them. As I met and interacted with them, I was constantly fleshing out my script. I wanted to show these boys, these invisible workers, and what their daily life is like. They didn’t care at all who their clients were – married, old, disabled. It was all simple and natural, and I thought it was very important to say it.”
Maritaud first gained acclaim in 120 Beats Per Minute, and has also appeared in the superb drama Boys (Jonas) and the forthcoming queer slasher pastiche Knife + Heart. With Sauvage, he says his first read through the script felt like it spoke to his body. “I was amazed by the character,” he says. “It’s really important to show the complexity of manhood in movies, because it’s really rare and precious when you make a guy speak about his vulnerability. Also, the violence in the script was really strong, but the love and tenderness were stronger. So I just went for it.”
As Leo, Maritaud strips physically and emotionally naked on-screen. “We based this character mainly on body and physical work,” he says. “So I didn’t need much information. I don’t know anything about this guy except that he’s craving love and tenderness anywhere he can find it. I just focussed on bringing his emotions and humanity, just living Leo’s vibrations! The audience knows that it’s going to be harsh and full-frontal. Once you go through that, you just accept the character and you become fascinated by him.”
Sauvage: Review by Jack Cline
As the title suggests, there’s an almost feral quality to this first feature from French filmmaker Camille Vital-Naquet. The film is shot with an often unnerving offhanded style, almost like a fly-on-the-wall documentary following a hot young street hustler on the mean streets of Paris. It’s a strikingly naturalistic film that never flinches at even the more full-on aspects of this young man’s life. And in the end, it’s more about the emotions than the plot.
At the centre is 22-year-old rentboy Leo (Felix Maritaud), who works the park like a pro but is also looking for a boyfriend. He has a crush on fellow prostitute Ahd (Eric Bernard), who sometimes violently reminds Leo that he’s not gay. So for personal connections, Leo instead turns to his johns, including a role-playing doctor (Lionel Riou) and a sensitive widower (Jean-Pierre Baste). But Leo isn’t taking care of himself, living rough on the streets, smoking crack and meth, and hanging out with troublemaking escort Mihal (Nicolas Dibla). Leo also fails to notice that his friend Claude (Philippe Ohrel) might actually like him.
To depict Leo’s life, Vital-Naquet stages a series of unusually explicit sex scenes, played with raw honesty by Maritaud to highlight both the realities of his lifestyle and the nuances of his internal journey. It’s rare to see such truthful depiction of sex on camera, neither celebrated nor demonised. It’s merely an essential element of who Leo is, and Maritaud’s loose physicality adds unexpected comedy and dark emotion to each scene, because for Leo his body is merely a tool of his trade. When his lifestyle begins to take a toll on his health, it’s clear that he will need to make some sort of change. Although he thinks rehab is a bit extreme.
There are a few plot points along the way, including a nasty client (Jean-Francois-Charles Martin) who will clearly come back later. But the film remains firmly centred on Leo’s internal journey. There’s a key moment when he’s speaking with a young doctor and replies to her compassion with an embrace, revealing that sex isn’t the only physicality Leo needs. In other words, this is far more that just another depiction of aimless youth: it’s a powerfully understated comment on how everyone needs both sex and love.
Sauvage is available now on streaming services and DVD.