REVIEW: “Lying Bare, Exposing All” – ‘Sauvage’ (2019)

★ ★ ★ ★ 

“An aching appreciation for this young man.”

Sauvage is a searing raw portrait of 22-year-old Leo (Félix Maritaud). Set in the streets of Strasbourg, his story of longing unravels itself explicitly in director Camille Vidal-Naquet’s debut feature. Sauvage frames this narrative of Leo as a male sex worker respectfully, as the character navigates money, drugs and love.

Leo is introduced naked as his body undergoes examination. He is poked and prodded until it becomes clear that this is a role-play doctor scenario and the two engage sexually. This scene immediately sets up an expectation for the rest of the story. Lying bare, exposing all, Leo’s world is introduced in an abrupt manner which comes to define the matter-of-fact nature of this film. 

With a bust lip and bruises that are scattered all over his body as random as his dark inked tattoos, Leo wanders with very little direction. Streetlights and the flame from his lighter are the only sparks of light that offer a sense of guidance. Like a fox, he prowls silently and cautiously through Strasbourg, his body moves quietly as he keeps his head low.

The beds in which he sleeps, or temporarily lies in, belong to someone else. But the streets are his to wander, walking with no destination, his steps are meaningless until he provides them with his own purpose. Venturing into daylight, he stands by the side of a tree-lined road waiting as enticingly as he can. 

Leo lying on his back, smoking, by the canal

This narrative is captured through an observational style, which gives a sense that distance is kept from Leo so as to not analyse his life but to experience the events. Leo’s life is far from smooth; filmed with a hand-held camera, every jolt of movement or rupture is felt. Existing in the margins, carving his own world through his perspective is a visceral experience. Vidal-Naquet’s film intimately explores Leo’s life without making him simply an object of desire. Watching these men hold themselves with dignified confidence, their bodies are instruments of pleasure. A measured recklessness is captured – a recklessness that is not intended to be tamed. Leo walks at his own pace waiting to see who will keep up. Yet Leo is multifaceted, each man he interacts with sees a different one of his faces, it remains undisclosed which expression is his true self.

Leo’s interactions are all unique but individually memorable, from lying and cuddling with a widower client to trying to catch his breath in a man-he’ll-never-see-again’s bed. But the most featured character in his life is Ahd (Éric Bernard). In a conserved way, Ahd looks out for him. After scolding Leo, he immediately demands a cuddle. They hold each other in a comforting embrace, the bond they share is of mutual understanding. Ahd himself says: “We’re not animals after all.” Their sexual actions do not remove from their tenderness, and tangled limbs reveal the sense of companionship that Leo seems to crave. 

At a succinct 95 minutes, Sauvage is forward moving at a deliberately unhesitating, expeditious pace. The DNA of this film is comprised of a young man doing what he can to stay afloat. One of Leo’s friends wears a blue baseball cap, embroiled with bold white letters: ‘no time to sleep!’. Defining this period of Leo’s life, Sauvage does not show Leo’s existence as something to be judged or debated, but instead it is an aching appreciation of this young man that lingers after the credits.

Dir: Camille Vidal-Naquet

Prod: Emmanuel Giraud and Marie Sonne-Jensen

Cast: Félix Maritaud, Eric Bernard, Nicolas Dibla, Philippe Ohrel

Release Date: UK, 2019

Available on: DVD; Peccadillo Pictures