Sauvage (Wild) is first-time director Camille Vidal-Naquet’s story of a street hustler’s descent into madness. Felix Maritaud as Leo is a tour de force in an uncompromising performance. It is in French with English subtitles.
In my years of seriously watching movies for the art, I’ve found very few LGBTQ titles that have really struck me as being honest to the struggles of the community.
The year 2019 has managed to deliver two, the heart wrenchingly beautiful The Garden Left Behind from Flavio Alves (we’ll have a review on it soon) and the French drama, Sauvage (Wild) which opened in L.A. and New York this past April and finally makes its way to more theaters starting this weekend.
At the heart of Camille Vidal-Naquet’s Sauvage is Leo, a 22-year-old who sells his body for cash. He is content with his life and shows no signs of wanting much more than what he has.
Felix Maritaud’s touching performance is the film’s highlight. He is slender and tall, and is the envy of every customer. In spite of the one-night stands, we know Leo longs for more, but his wild tendencies won’t allow him to find what makes him the happiest.
Vidal-Naquet opens Sauvage slyly, turning an encounter between Leo and his trick in to a rather humorous act. The way it is staged it plays as a double entendre, a theme that is explored further in the film. Maritaud carries the scene off expertly; that is that we’re engaged in Leo’s performance as much as we are with Maritaud’s.
It is because of this performance that we understand Leo a bit better in the beginning of Sauvage than would normally be appropriate. Vidal-Naquet layers on more details about his life as the film goes on, but there is something dark, perhaps sinister about Leo’s interactions that we don’t know.
Even as we’re sure of Leo’s confidence, we get the sense that he isn’t cut out for this lifestyle, that he doesn’t know any better and can’t break free of his circuitous circumstances. There’s a playfulness between Leo and Ahd (Eric Bernard); a playfulness that suggests that something more is going on between them.
Sauvage wants us invested in the idea of a lust between the two competitors for one-night stands, which leads to an interesting conversation between the two where Ahd questions Leo’s motives. “Why do you kiss clients?” Leo is quick to respond, “I dunno. It doesn’t bother me.” Ahd knows better, quickly deflecting the affection. “That means nothing. It’s not about being bothered.”
“It’s like you enjoy being a whore.” Within that moment, we know Leo’s destiny. It is through this realization that he begins a drug-addled descent into a wild, carefree existence, picking up anyone who would pay for his services.
There is a genuine fear for the decisions the character makes, though. Ahd, very much like a big brother, looks out for Leo, but he also instinctively pushes him away, constantly reminding him to find an older suitor.
There’s a sullen moment in Sauvage where Leo overlooks a train yard. We can see in Maritaud’s performance the strain and struggle, but we also see the possibility of hope through Claude (Phillippe Ohrel), who picks him up and promises to take care of Leo. Vidal-Naquet gives us a glimpse of what life with a well-heeled suitor looks like.
But, we know from Leo’s perspective on life that he is destined for a different lot. By revealing this early on in the film, we can’t get a sense of who Leo is, just what and to a large extent, who he does. The story is more interested in Leo than in what happens to him, and sometimes, that’s for the best.
Sauvage excels with Felix Maritaud’s emotionally driven performance, for which he won the Louis Roederer Foundation Rising Star Award at the 2018 Cannes Film Festival. Camille Vidal-Naquet was nominated for the Critics’ Week Grand Prize, the Golden Camera, and the Queer Palm as well. This speaks volumes of the film’s intentions.
Sauvage/Wild has not been rated by the MPAA and is playing in select theaters. Images courtesy of Strand Releasing.