“I discovered that the filming of close-ups of bodies and sexuality is very complicated because it needs to be really precise and accurate”. That’s what writer-director Camille Vidal-Naquet (“Mauvaise tête”; “Backstage”) told us after we asked him about the shooting of his first full-length feature film “Sauvage”.
Based on the quote alone, you can already guess that this film isn’t PG13 rated and that it involves nudity and sex. However, “Sauvage” isn’t only about that. It also tells an emotional and honest story showing the vulnerability and intimacy of male street hustlers.
The 22-year-old Léo (Félix Maritaud) lives on the streets of Strasbourg, smokes whatever he can get his hands on and makes his money as a street hustler. Life is certainly not treating him very well as a male prostitute but he still tries to make the best of it. He falls in love with Ahd, another male hustler, with whom he pleasures different suitors.
As a gay man, Léo doesn’t mind kissing his clients but Ahd, however, is hetero and kissing another man goes surprisingly against his morals. It’s the (lack of) morality that will drive a wedge between the two men. While Léo is still driven by love and feelings, Ahd has been hardened by the tough life as a hustler.
When, one night, Ahd disappears with his old and new patron, Léo is left without his best friends and saviour. He’s not only struggling with his emotions but also with his professional life as a hustler. When a new young man Mihal (Nicolas Dibla) is being recruited as a prostitute, the dark cloud above Léo’s head seems to disappear as he might have found his soulmate at last.
They’re having the best time: Partying, living life to the fullest and sharing some clients. However, when Léo’s diagnosed with tuberculosis and when he starts up couching blood, it’s a race against the clock. Right when things couldn’t be more complicated or stressful for Léo, he encounters a mysterious but compelling man who might be the first step in the right direction. Or not?
According to leading actor Maritaud (“Knife+Heart”, “BPM (Beats Per Minute)”) “people who are watching this film 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.”
We couldn’t agree with him more but it might take a while before that acceptance phase sets in. From the very first scene, you are being thrown into the world of prostitution in the more brutal but also honest way possible. You have to have a strong stomach for but indeed, just as Maritaud said the more the film and the story develop, the more the film focusses on the emotions, vulnerability, and uncertainty of the male street hustlers.
One of the great things about this film is the perfectly fitting cinematography for every element of the story. Director Vidal-Naquet wanted to show the sex scenes as the hustlers’ job and not as something erotic or special and he succeeds in that wonderfully. While the act itself might seem unique, the cinematography makes it feel very casual, normal and just like the ordinary everyday life of the hustlers. When the more extravagant and vibrant nightlife of the men appears, the cinematography becomes immensely more colourful, flashy and energetic.
For both the director and actor, “Sauvage” is all about vulnerability, tenderness, love, and honesty. When emotions and sensations are key in a movie, the cast has to be spot on. Maritaud mentioned that he approaches his role just like any other and he didn’t focus too much on the prostitution part of his role.
For him, it was all about emotions and that really comes through during the film. Because of his performance, it’s immensely easy for the audience to feel empathy and compassion for Leo. Not only when it comes to his personal life, such as the insecurity about whether he will find love or not or what will happen with him when he’s being diagnosed with the illness, but also his professional life. Will he get the money he deserves and what will happen to him after Ahd departs with his client?
What makes this movie even more fascinating is the chemistry between Maritaud and Bernard (“11.6”, “Freeway”). While you would feel sympathy for Leo, that’s something you absolutely don’t feel for Bernard’s. Bernard his talent surfaces as the secretive, selfish but also still caring (a little bit) and affectionate Adh.
We don’t see a lot of Dibla, of whom “Sauvage” is his film debut, as Mihal but what we see is very solid. Especially the scenes with Maritaud.
It took over three years to write the script because Vidal-Naquet wanted it to be as accurate as possible and his hard work pays off. It became a multi-layered story that focusses on both the sexual act as well as the emotions and feelings that come with being a male street hustler. It’s the combination of that story and the intriguing acting that makes from “Sauvage” a film you have to catch while you can. Just prepare yourself to step into the world of sex, drugs, and prostitution.