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Sauvage (2018)

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Release Date: April 10

Leo is 22 and sells his body on the street for a bit of cash. The men come and go, and he stays right here - longing for love. He doesn't know what the future will bring. He hits the road. His heart is pounding.

Writers:

Camille Vidal-Naquet (screenplay), Camille Vidal-Naquet (dialogue)
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Cast

Cast overview, first billed only:
Félix Maritaud ... Léo
Eric Bernard Eric Bernard ... Ahd (as Éric Bernard)
Nicolas Dibla Nicolas Dibla ... Mihal
Philippe Ohrel Philippe Ohrel ... Claude
Pavle Dragas Pavle Dragas ... Garçon de la bande
Mehdi Boudina Mehdi Boudina ... Garçon de la bande
Azir Mustafic Azir Mustafic ... Garçon de la bande
Hassim Mohamed Saleh Hassim Mohamed Saleh ... Garçon de la bande
Morad Ammar Morad Ammar ... Garçon de la bande
Noureddine Maamar Noureddine Maamar ... Garçon de la bande (as Nour-Eddine Maamar)
Camille Müller Camille Müller ... Garçon de la bande
Lou Ravelli Lou Ravelli ... Ana (de la bande) (as Lou Ravelli-Avanissian)
Lionel Riou Lionel Riou ... Le médecin
Lucas Bléger Lucas Bléger ... L'homme handicapé
Laurent Berecz Laurent Berecz ... L'épicier
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Storyline

Leo is 22 and sells his body on the street for a bit of cash. The men come and go, and he stays right here - longing for love. He doesn't know what the future will bring. He hits the road. His heart is pounding.

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis

Genres:

Drama

Certificate:

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Details

Country:

France

Language:

French

Release Date:

10 April 2019 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

Wild See more »

Filming Locations:

Strasbourg, France

Company Credits

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Technical Specs

Runtime:

Color:

Color

Aspect Ratio:

1.66 : 1
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Sweat
Performed by Yinon Yahel
Remixed by Yinon Yahel & Mor Avrahami
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User Reviews

 
Powerful filmmaking, although the graphic sex scenes and passive protagonist won't be for everyone
17 March 2019 | by BertautSee all my reviews

Sauvage is the debut film of writer/director Camille Vidal-Naquet, a former professor of film studies, and takes as its subject the daily grind of a male prostitute. Striking a delicate balance between misery porn and objectively delineating day-to-day of being a sex worker, the film is undeniably bleak, but it's not what you would define as miserablism. Remaining detached from what it depicts, it adopts a clinical, dispassionate approach, one that remains always non-judgemental. Intermixing the degrading reality of selling one's self with unexpected moments of tenderness and warmth, Vidal-Naquet taps into something deeply compelling. Some will be put off by the (very) graphic sex scenes, the passivity of the main character, or the lack of much of a plot. However, for everyone else, although it certainly isn't multiplex fare, there's a hell of a lot to admire here.

Set in Strasbourg, Sauvage tells the story of Léo (an extraordinarily committed performance from relative newcomer Félix Maritaud), a homeless, drug-addicted male prostitute, whose name, like those of his fellow sex workers, is never spoken in the film. As the film begins, Léo is attending a doctor (Lionel Riou), revealing bruises, a split lip, a nasty cough, and stomach pains. Upon examining him, the doctor appears to begin sexually molesting him. However, all is not as it seems in the scene, which is a genius way to open the movie. The episodic narrative then follows Léo from one sexual encounter to the next, occasionally focusing on his relationship with gay-for-pay prostitute Ahd (Eric Bernard), with whom he is in love.

The film reveals nothing about Léo's background - where he comes from, how he became a prostitute, does he have any family - and many of the choices he makes prompt more questions than answers, with much of what he does tied to his notions of personal freedom. Even his final choice, which is undeniably selfish and ill-advised, is consistent with the psychology of the character as seen up to that point. He isn't especially interested in a life away from drugs and prostitution, and so he takes the violence, degradations, and humiliations, because every now and then he meets someone who provides him with a degree of transitory happiness. And that is his primary concern, rather than the practicalities about which his colleagues worry.

Léo also doesn't share in their detachment, coldness, or bitterness, with all of them finding it bizarre that he's willing to kiss clients. However, the important point is that Léo doesn't kiss on-demand, he does so only when it feels right. This in and of itself illustrates how different he is from the other prostitutes, and how selling himself is not exclusively monetary - he is searching for genuine affection, and he seems incapable of establishing the same boundaries between himself and his clients as the other sex workers live by. He gives much more of himself than them, in the hopes of establishing a genuine human connection with someone. Indeed, Ahd says at one point, "it's like you enjoy being a wh-re", which he doesn't actually deny.

His fellow prostitutes are healthier, cleaner, more financially independent, more aware of the dangers of their occupation, never allowing emotions to become involved. But Léo is far more tender than any of them, and for all the harshness of his life, there is something Emersonian about him. Indeed, for much of the film, he has a pseudo- transcendentalist soul - he is relatively free of the norms of society and its institutions; he is at peace in and with nature; he lives very much in the moment; he has almost no materialist needs whatsoever; he trusts completely in his own instincts, he never lets go of his hope of finding love. This is why a scene involving a female doctor (Marie Seux) is so important; treating him with respect and empathy, when she attempts to examine him, he hugs her, and they hold each other for a moment, in an embrace that has nothing to do with sexuality and everything to do with kindness and emotional support. When she treats him with respect and shows genuine concern for his wellbeing, he instinctively grabs at the human connection, irrespective of her gender (she's actually the only female in the film).

Obviously, for a film of this nature to be in any way realistic, it must depict sexuality, and Vidal-Naquet doesn't hold back on that front. At the screening I attended, five people walked out within the first half-hour, by which time there had already been three graphic sex scenes (including a threesome with two prostitutes and a disabled man in a wheelchair). What's interesting about these scenes, however, is that they never lose their potency, irrespective of how many we see. I think the reason for this is how Vidal-Naquet presents them; far from filming them in a voyeuristic way or as titillation, they are instead presented dispassionately as something that happens to people in this line of work, as normal for Léo as taking drugs or sleeping rough - it's simply a part of his life.

Cinematographer Jacques Girault employs a pseudo-documentarian cinéma vérité aesthetic; the entire film is shot handheld, with an occasional loss of focus, frequent awkward compositions, and even losing the subject momentarily in the frame before picking him up again. This has the effect of neither demonising sexuality as something perverted and dirty, nor valorising it as the most important part of a relationship. By depicting it as simply a part of Léo's life, Vidal-Naquet normalises it. He certainly doesn't gloss over the problems of this kind of life, or the sexual perversions one may encounter, but he doesn't present sex work as, in and of itself, fundamentally immoral. Instead, he depicts both sides of the coin; from non-sexual intimacy with an elderly bookseller (Jean-Pierre Baste) who simply wants someone to read to him to a demeaning threesome with a pierced couple (Nicolas Fernandez and Nicolas Chalumeau) who have Léo stand naked in front of them as they discuss how bad he smells, before roughly using a sex toy that would make even the ladies of LegalPorno winch. Indeed, Vidal-Naquet gets his point across about the highs and lows of sex work with a very simple edit - the film cuts from Léo lying peacefully in bed with the bookseller to giving a rough blowjob to a client in a car parked in an alley.

In terms of problems, as already stated, many will find the graphic sex scenes too much. Another issue is that Léo is an extremely passive character; he doesn't so much drive the plot as the plot depicts things that happen to him. Coupled with this, he doesn't have much of an arc, and at the end, he isn't overly different from the man we met at the beginning. With him being in every scene, almost every shot, the other prostitutes are very thinly sketched (even Ahd), but this is by design. On the other hand, the depiction of Claude (Philippe Ohrel), a magnanimous and kindly middle-aged man who takes a liking to Léo and immediately opens his home to him, is open to criticism; in a film founded on realism, he is something of a deus ex-machina, arriving in Léo's life just as he reaches his lowest point.

On paper, Sauvage should be a textbook case of misery porn, following as it does a homeless drug-addicted male prostitute and his often demeaning sexual encounters. However, Vidal-Naquet's non-judgemental depiction of Léo's occupation and milieu allows the more optimistic elements of his personality to rise to the surface, even in the face of seemingly endless degradations. It's certainly not an easy watch, but amidst the depravity, Vidal-Naquet finds moments of tenderness, moments which mean everything to Léo. Uninterested in titillation, the film depicts sexual activity as something that happens, without judgement or commentary. And by so doing, it avoids, for the most part, the clichés so inherent to films dealing with prostitution. Neither condemning Léo's lifestyle nor valorising it, no matter how demeaning or brutal it becomes, he always seems to find a way to keep going. That may be interpreted as tragic, but that's not the way Léo looks at himself, nor is it the way Vidal-Naquet wants us to look at him.


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