Swimming with the virile tide of the latest surging French queer cinema, Camille Vidal-Naquet’s debut feature SAUVAGE/WILD, for one thing, conspicuously eschews the virulent sign of its times, which has taken a central role in sterling works of Christophe Honoré’s SORRY ANGEL (2018), Robin Campillo’s BPM (BEATS PER MINUTE) (2017) and Olivier Ducastel, Jacques Martineau’s PARIS 05:59: THÉO & HUGO (2016), in fact, the poor health of our protagonist Léo (BPM alumnus Maritaud), a 22-year-old homeless prostitute drifting in Strasbourg, is much due to malnutrition than any sexually transmitted diseases.
Opening with a beguilingly titillating twist of a role-play Léo participating with one of his clients, SAUVAGE/WILD lives and dies with Maritaud’s resilient and profoundly moving performance, investing himself thoroughly to inhabit Léo’s sleeping-rough, miserable existence, Maritaud brings to the fore of Léo’s otherness, an almost angelic being that uncharacteristically seeks no temporal value like other men of his trade, more liable to his own instinct than any social norms (he doesn’t even understand why crack, from which a kindhearted female doctor advises him to abstain, is a bad thing because for him, it is a boon that makes him feel good). Whether impassively posturing to be picked by potential kerb-crawlers, or tenderly looking for a moment of human contact with his clients, a battered Maritaud unyieldingly draws our attention and compassion through his lived-in vulnerability and wounded masculinity, not to mention those eye-popping, demandingly graphic sex scenes, which bears out an audacious resolve for authenticity without any voyeuristic agenda to sexualize the subject matter, hats off to Vidal-Naquet and his intrepid cast.
Vidal-Naquet’s diligent script covers a whole gamut of what could happen to a sex worker in this parlous line of business, from Léo’s love-hate entanglement with the gay-for-pay Ahd (Bernard), seeped with the latter’s macho toxicity, to his sundry encounters: a gerontophiliac bonding with a senior widower; a demeaning penetration preyed on him by two callous youngsters; a skylarking bunco conducted with his fellow escort Mihal (Dibla), to whom Léo cannot reciprocate his feelings. All those segments are shot with a clinical matter-of-fact-ness that leans towards a reportage with its hand-held amateurishness.
When Ahd decides to leave with his sugar daddy, it lays bare of the best scenario which could ever happen to the practitioners of rough trade, and soon Léo’s savior materializes in the form of Claude (Ohrel) exactly when he hits the rock bottom (the startling perversion and violence is rendered off screen considerately), although as a deus ex-machina, Claude is a dreamboat too perfect to be true, however Vidal-Naquet perversely goes against the grain (after his indiscriminate stock-in-trade towards all sorts of patronage, it is appalling to see Léo rebuff Claude as “old and ugly” when the latter is overlay with brimful innocuousness and tenderness), only to shatter our cexpectation and suffix a true-to-his-nature coda to Léo’s self-emancipation and precious independence, with his final in utero attitude, smells like a missed opportunity for this reviewer’s two cents’ worth, otherwise, SAUVAGE/WILD is a belter of a debut feature giving an honest voice to the marginal and the underprivileged.
referential entries: Christophe Honoré’s SORRY ANGEL (2018, 8.1/10); Olivier Ducastel, Jacques Martineau’s PARIS 05:59: THÉO & HUGO (2016, 8.0/10); Robin Campillo’s BPM (BEATS PER MINUTE) (2017, 8.1/10).