One of the most powerful and provocative movies that completely divided the critics at the Cannes Film Festival this year was French writer-director Camille Vidal-Naquet’s debut feature Sauvage. This story about a young street hustler in Strasburg who lived on his wits and despite his tough exterior turned out to be a whore with a heart had one half of the ecstatic Festival audience cheering wildly whilst the other half clamoured to exit the theater as fast as possible.
Sauvage is a movie that really gets under your skin as the desperation of 22 year Leo (Félix Maritaud) who lives and sleeps on the street completely mesmerizes you. Hanging out with other hustlers in a notorious pick up place in a park on the edge of town, he meets up with with hunky Ahd (Eric Bernard). The older hustler flirts with him and invites Leo to have a threesome with him and a client, but draws up strict boundaries as to what he will and will not do in bed. Ahd claims he is straight and that hustling men for sex is just temporary, whereas Leo puts his heart and soul into it as if he enjoys it.
The two men start up an uncomfortable friendship where the older man reluctantly acts as the naive Leo’s protector, whilst although he refuses to admit it, Leo falls in head over heels in love with him.
Living rough on the street means that Leo not only has hygiene issues but also he is not well too. When he eventually ends up seeing a compassionate and understanding Doctor (Marie Seux) he clings to her as if seeking maternal comfort for the parents he has been abandoned by.
Ahd is obsessed by the idea of being able to leave town and get away and the favorite pastime of him and the other hustlers is shang out by the airport perimeter and just watch planes take off. Leo who cannot understand by Ahd cannot reciprocate his feelings is on the other hand happy enough to stay where he is as he doesnt know or want any other kind of life no matter how tough this one is. Although he seems to want to settle down when another gay hustler offers him the chance of being his boyfriend, he doesn’t take him up.
As Ahd hooks himself up with a sugar daddy and is about to finally leave town, Leo gets himself into an even dangerous mess but this time it is not Ahd who rescues him. It finally seems that could be redemption for Leo after all.
There are no holds barred filming both the gritty action and the explicit sex that pepper the whole movie. It is all very brash and bold and quite unnerving, but underneath there is something undeniably so touching about Leo’s achingly need for romance. Maritaud, who first came to our attention last year in Robin Campillo’s BPM, is a remarkably talented young actor who gives a pitch perfect performance as Leo and who somehow makes us always want to be in is corner. It won him the Best Newcomer Award at Cannes and he is now destined to be a major star.
Kudos to Vidal-Naquet for her unflinching conviction and her very graphic approach to an unsettling story. This truly excellent movie will linger with you long after you have seen it and marks her as talent that we should always look out for from now on.