It’s not every day you see a film about the lives of male streets hustlers but “Sauvage” is one of those movies. The thrilling film doesn’t only represent the harsh and tough life of sex workers but also shows the vulnerability, honesty, and tenderness. Ahead of its release on the 1st of March, Liselotte Vanophem spoke to writer-director Camille Vidal-Naquet (“Mauvaise tête”; “Backstage”) and leading actor Félix Maritaud (“Knife+Heart”, “BPM (Beats Per Minute)”).
Liselotte Vanophem: Congratulations on your electrifying film. It’s one with an extraordinary story. You, Camille, weren’t only the director but also the writer. Where did the story for this film come from?
Camille Vidal-Naquet: Well, I just made it up. I could say that it’s based on a true story or that it comes from real events but it’s totally made up. Especially the character of Léo and it all started with that character actually. Léo is an outsider and who’s above all rules. I imagined that character and then I wrote the first draft of the script. After that, I joined a charity because I wanted to see what the situation was in real life of a male street hustler. I went there and I spend a lot of time there. Afterwards, I went back to the writing of the script and I added new elements to it. I tried to get as accurate as I could. It took over three years to write the script
LV: Félix, what went through your mind when you read the script for the first time?
Félix Maritaud: I was amazed by the script. The first read really touched me and it was speaking to my body. I was amazed by the character as this character is a very complex one. It’s really important to show the complexity of the manhood in movies because there are a lot of male characters that speak in the movies but it’s really rare and precious when you make a guy speak about his vulnerability, his tenderness and about his manhood situation. Also, the violence in the script was really strong but the love and tenderness were stronger. I just went for it.
LV: In this film, it’s all about between the relationships between the men. Whether it’s a friendship, a relationship involving love or just a sexual relationship and so the cast of this film must have been very important. How did the casting process go?
CVN: The thing is that this cast is a very peculiar one. It involves professional actors, some actors who are beginners and some of them aren’t actors at all. They were being there just living it in front of the camera. I observed the actors a lot during the casting process. I was looking at “who exactly are those actors” and I was trying to get what they had to offer. I think it’s better to go this way than trying to force them to something that I really wanted. The casting involved a lot of observation but at the same time, it was also very spontaneous. I wanted them to be really honest and to be true to the camera. I was looking for a certain level of honesty because the movie is about humanity and human relationships.
Honesty is really precious. I didn’t want the actors to really act like they were in a theatre. I just wanted something really true and real. In fact, it was very important as well to film people who are interesting even if they were doing nothing in front of the camera. That was something I was really paying attention to. Being a prostitute is a lot of waiting and if you film them waiting they don’t actually act. They act but they don’t do a specific reaction. It was very important for me to see how they were doing nothing but just existing. This is what I tried to film.
LV: In this film, you portray Léo, a prostitute. How do you prepare yourself for such a role?
FM: Well, I didn’t prepare myself to play the role of a prostitute. I prepared myself just to play the character who’s giving his body and who’s always looking for love relationship and being intimate with people. Ok, yes, in this case, he was working in the prostitution but I didn’t have to focus on the prostitution because even in the prostitution, he’s considered as the outcast. He doesn’t belong to the same codes and rules as the other guys on the street. This character really has something that’s uncommon because he owns nothing and he doesn’t need to own anything. That was the most important part for me.
LV: In this film, there are a lot of naked scenes which is probably not easy to shoot as there needs to be a certain level of trust, ease and the confidence to do those scenes. How did you make sure that that level of trust was there?
CVN: I didn’t have to convince them because they knew what they had to do and they understood that they were just playing the role of workers. The sex in the movie isn’t something like really spectacular and for me, there are also no erotic or pornographic scenes. It’s just the workers during their work. The nudity had to be filmed just like the rest of the film and that’s what we did. Everyone was comfortable with this idea because it wasn’t a real performance. It wasn’t anything special that we were doing. I think Félix got that from the very beginning. It wasn’t a problem from the start and I didn’t have to convince him. It was just a part of the script and that’s something that you need to understand as an actor. I don’t think filming a film like this would work if you need to convince the actor. if you have to convince him then it means that there’s already a problem from the very beginning.
If I would have wanted to make an erotic scene than there might have been a problem because that’s something very special. That would be like displaying your intimacy but in this film, you just give a view on people who work. As mentioned before, we just shot the scenes like the others. Everyone was staying on set and I think there were no awkward moments. I discovered that the filming of close-ups of bodies and sexuality is very complicated because it needs to be really precise and accurate. Not only for me, the DoP but also for the actors. They have to know exactly what they do and don’t forget that even when they’re naked they still have to act. They have to focus on what’s going on in the scene. You just make the nude scenes and forget that you’re naked.
LV: “Sauvage” isn’t only just about sex but there’s also the dark side the sex workers have to face such as dealing with insecurity, trying to survive and the struggles of life. Camille: How important was it for you to show that dark side as well?
CVN: That was actually the main element of the film. We have a character (Léo) who still has his heart intact. The ther workers are all hardened because of the job and they don’t want to show their emotions. It’s troubling for them to imagine showing the emotions. At the start of the film, you might think that that’s the flow. That’s about Léo being weaker than the others because he feels, shows emotions and loves. In the end, you discover that that’s what makes him strong. Despite being vulnerable, he’s still standing in the end. While the others want to quit because it’s too hard, he’s still there. I think that that was the whole cinematographic project. How is it possible to film the tenderness and affection in a brutal world? It’s interesting “actorwise”, soundwise, “camerawise” and all of this.
LV: What do you hope that people will take away with them from this film?
FM: I don’t really care about what the people think or what kind of judgment they have about the film and character. What I saw and experience with this movie is that people were feeling something. It wasn’t about taking a side in this whole situation and this whole world that isn’t quite known but the people were feeling the exact same feelings of the character. That’s what makes this film so strong as a cinematographic project. The people who are watching this film they know that it’s going to be harsh and full frontal. Once you go through that, you just accept the character and you get fascinated by him.
CVN: What the audience is going to feel, doesn’t concern me. I’ve learned that the movie doesn’t belong to me anymore because it’s released. Now that it’s released, everyone can make up their mind about this film as they want. I can’t control it. I just hope that people understand that in the same city, in the cities we live in, there’re people we don’t suppose exist. We always suppose that they’re very far away from us but in fact, they’re just under our very own eyes but still, we don’t see it. I think it’s important to be aware of that. There’s also no simple response to complex situations. I’m convinced that there are people out there who don’t fit in our social rules. 99% of us do but there’s this one percent who are totally away from society. We have the tendency of wanting to get them back into those 99%. This film says “what if not?”. What if it’s just the way they live? We have to understand what’s going on and I think that’s the most important thing. Of course, this movie isn’t a social analysis. It’s all about the emotions, the heart, and feelings.
LV: One last question: For you, Camille, was this your first full-length feature film. How was this for you and were there obstacles you have to overcome?
CVN: To be honest, I thought it was easier to make a full-length feature than making short films. It makes sense when you think about it. During the making of a feature film, there are more people involved, more money and you get much more help. When making a short film, you’re more on your own. It really helped to have a lot of people. I was surprised how smoothly it actually went. It was a very demanding and exhausting shooting. We had to shoot one more day than expected.
FM: We were really lucky to have a team that was really empathetic and non-judgemental when it came to the whole situation and the characters. The people were putting a lot of empathy and honesty in the project. Everyone was really concerned and focussed on the film. They were really there for the movie and for Camille. That was really beautiful!