(2019, 99 min)
Director: Camille Vidal-Naquet
Studio: Strand Releasing
Language: French w/subtitles
Sauvage/Wild, filmmaker Camille Vidal-Naquet's riveting and vibrant erotic journey of a 22-year-old male prostitute named Leo, features a stunning performance from Felix Maritaud (BPM, Boys, Knife+Heart). Leo trades in love as much as lust and wanders through his life without rules or restrictions. Through a series of encounters that offer a glimpse into the complicated and visceral world of male sex work, Leo finds himself searching for affection anywhere he can get it - whether it's the unrequited love for his hustler friend Ahd (Eric Bernard) or in the arms of an older, vulnerable client. Will Leo choose his freedom and the dangers that come with it, or the comforts of a stable relationship? After all, in this unpredictable world, who knows where he'll end up?
The opening scene of “Sauvage / Wild” alerts viewers to be up for anything. A doctor (Lionel Riou) takes the symptoms of a patient (Félix Maritaud) and asks him to undress. The doctor turns out to work for the French equivalent of the I.R.S., and the patient — the film’s protagonist — turns out to be a prostitute. This role-playing exercise is hardly the most surprising tryst we will witness over the course of this sexually frank debut feature from the French writer-director Camille Vidal-Naquet.
The hustler — never given a name, though the director calls him Leo — takes a laissez-faire attitude toward prostitution, both as a business and as a lifestyle. Ahd (Éric Bernard), a colleague he solicits with along a park road, asks him why he kisses his clients: “It’s like you enjoy being a whore.” Viewed one way, “Sauvage / Wild” is a cautionary tale about the perils of blurring what you do and who you are.
Naïveté may be Leo’s defining attribute. When a newcomer to the turf begins charging less than the community rate for oral sex, Leo comes to his defense, saying he’s not bothering anyone. (Never mind that the man will later teach Leo a sneaky method for drugging a john.)
Leo is also in love with Ahd, who can be sensitive and protective; he allows Leo to cuddle with him the morning after a party and later helps him recoup money from clients who rough him up. But Ahd advises him to leave the grind. “Find an old guy,” he says. “A nice one. It’s the best that can happen to us.” But whether Leo desires to escape is an unsettled question.
The film doesn’t avoid addressing certain dangers of prostitution. Leo is shown being graphically violated, and the men fear a would-be client known as “the pianist,” who is known for twisted tastes. Also Leo, a chronic crack user who midway through the film receives a diagnosis for a possible lung infection, doesn’t look like he is in enviable health.
But in both conception and conclusion, the movie takes a pie-eyed view of Leo’s ostensible wildness, as if living on the streets, drug addiction and charging money for sex were just radical expressions of liberty. Vidal-Naquet sells this facile notion by keeping his protagonist a borderline cipher — even-tempered, accommodating, seemingly at peace with drifting. It’s tough to build a character study around an unconvincing character.
-- Review by Ben Kenigsberg, New York Times (https://www.nytimes.com)