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Film Review: Sauvage, MQFF

Director Vidal-Naquet's Sauvage is a strong disturbing and uncompromising showcase for its star Félix Maritaud.
Film Review: Sauvage, MQFF

Félix Maritaud in Sauvage.

Writer/director Camille Vidal-Naquet brings us Sauvage, a modern story of a young male sex worker, played by current queer indie darling Félix Maritaud (who is featured in four films in this year’s MQFF), living on the streets of Strasbourg.We don’t hear Leo’s name in the film; one client asks him what it is and he answers: 'call me anything'.

Leo is homeless and when he’s not ‘turning tricks’ he’s dancing in gay clubs or smoking various substances. He stays in squats, occasionally overnight with a client but often sleeps in the fields. He hangs with a community of fellow street-based sex workers, both competing and looking out for each other. They play soccer in parks, fight, and line the roads once it gets dark. Leo falls in love with gay-for-pay Ahd (Eric Bernard), and through this attachment his emotional needs come to the fore.

Sauvage is punctuated by three visits with health professionals. The first, the film’s opening sequence, turns down an unexpected alley, and the last is a routine check-up with a caution. But the middle encounter contains the most poignant moment in the film, where doctor (Marie Seux) reminds Leo how his lifestyle is seriously compromising his health. When she asks him about his family of origin there’s a silent heartbreaking moment, before his defences collapse and we see how emotionally bereft his life has been.

The handheld camera shots are shaky, and have a disturbing visceral effect on the viewer, intensifying the frenetic physical drama of dance, in particular, and of sex, substance abuse, and aggression. Scenes of Leo in the woods are often shot through foliage, showing him enveloped in nature, suggesting that Leo is a wild thing, seen from a distance as in old-fashioned nature documentaries. Otherwise we have intense, prolonged close-ups, emphasising his youth, and then occasional wider shots of him on the streets, revealing his vulnerability and how he might appear to an onlooker; Leo is unable to allow himself a ‘big-picture’ perspective on his own life, but the film occasionally draws back and places him in the cityscape, as an individual in broader society.

The soundscape ranges from the industrial pulse of electro beats in the dance scenes to Frederic Chopin’s Nocturne Opus 9, No. 1.

This film is about one man living life on his own terms, however this film also tells us plenty about the world of the male sex worker: the ongoing struggle with identity, fears for the future once you’re no longer young, the quest for love and the need for affection along with the inherent loneliness that goes with the job (there are practically no male brothels), as well as efforts to balance and separate personal lives from working lives. And, for the men in the world of Sauvage, the struggle for sheer survival: we're just not sure Leo's going to make it. Ahd does care for Leo but is ambitious and determined to get off the streets. 'Find a nice old man,' he tells Leo.

There are inconsistencies regarding Leo’s sessions with clients. He doesn’t insist on being paid upfront, for instance, which is unlikely. He has abandoned himself in some of his encounters, where, rather than negotiating limits and setting boundaries, he goes along with what is presented to him, as he does in life. This suggests he’s out of control and doesn’t care what happens to him. These extremes are presented in painful contrast to the life of comfort Ahd opts for.

The final close-up is of Leo peaceful, asleep, curled up in the fetal position, and as the camera moves lovingly closer he seems to get younger.  

Sauvage is an unsparing, unforgettable, film, which positions Maritaud as a major talent.  

Rating: 4 stars ★★★★

Director: Camille Vidal-Naquet
Courtesy Of: Pyramide Internationalencore and Surprise Screenings 
France 2018
Unclassified 18+ 
97 Mins 

16-25 March 2019
Melbourne Queer Film Festival

Liza Dezfouli

Thursday 21 March, 2019

About the author

Liza Dezfouli reviews film, live performance, books and occasionally music. She blogs about film and other things in a blog called Copy and Cake and writes another, somewhat less-measured blog about feminism and heteronormativity called WhenMrWrongfeelsSoRight. She can occasionally be seen in short films and on stage. For more: