The striking opening gambit of various strapping men scattered, lingering on the side of busy roads. These tortured souls on the fringes of society. Lost in the wilderness, as they clamour for the slightest bit of attention from the drivers who speed past, mirroring the immediacy of such sexual advances.

In Camille Vidal Naquet’s bracing and brilliant portrait of one gay man’s experiences as a male prostitute. He pits the almost animalistic nature of its chosen trade against the potential of true nurture, along with the desperate necessity of its financial currency and the offerings of a more emotional kind.

Star of last year’s remarkable 120 BPM (Beats Per Minute). Felix Maritaud’s 22-year-old Leo certainly gets hearts racing from the outset with his sense of reckless abandon, as he looks to navigate through the sights of Strasbourg. His troubling health as he struggles with his breathing, a possible metaphor for how suffocated he feels by the limitations to connect within this line of work, striving for meaning in a manner that sets him apart.

His passionate pursuit of fellow albeit heterosexual co-worker Ahd (Eric Bernard) the finest example, who is under the perception that the wealth and kindness of an older man is their escape route, admiring planes as they take off to their preferred destination. Away from his steely gaze, Leo’s naïve youth attempts to subvert the monotony of his various sexual encounters by opening the door to his ‘customers’ for a heightened sense of real intimacy, instead of revelling in throwaway gestures and driving home the collective loneliness.

In a film that begins with a thorough medical examination, it’s fitting that it almost feels like an endurance test for us as an audience, in the unflinching way director Camille Vidal-Naquet depicts this world. From the disabled to able-bodied older gentlemen. All the way to a degrading young couple. Its representation is multi-faceted in its refreshing diversity, with the range of emotions Leo feels ranging from fleetingly sweet to prolonged horror, all captured in clinical and occasionally brutal fashion.

The lack of condemnation by its director in Leo’s plight is surprising yet much welcomed, digging deep into what makes Leo tick. His craving for romance clear. Yet the startling reluctance to break this way of living when glimmers of hope present themselves is both fascinating and heart-breaking. The physical bruises as Vidal-Naquet surveys his weary body evident, but it’s the searing quality of its leading man in how those emotional pummellings are conveyed, that truly hits home.

In what is a fearless performance, displaying a restlessness in his unwarranted pain and a confidence in the intended pleasure. Felix Maritaud is an arresting on-screen presence as Leo, caught up in the somewhat merciless mechanics of his lifestyle, with his piercing pain-filled eyes often the window into his complex emotions.

Halfway through the film the words ‘We’re not animals after all’ are uttered. In challenging such narrow perceptions through an admittedly tough lens, Camille Vidal-Naquet’s Sauvage offers a deeply humanistic and intoxicating experience.

 

Directed by: Camille Vidal-Naquet

Cast: Félix Maritaud, Eric Bernard, Nicolas Dibla