Mesmerizing focus on French gay sex worker

Mesmerizing focus on French gay sex worker

Courtesy of Strand Releasing
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Writer/director Camille Vidal-Naquet’s raw, blistering drama, “Sauvage/Wild,” concentrates its energy on the body of Léo (Félix Maritaud), an attractive 22-year-old gay male sex worker.

Viewers get an eyeful of this un-self-conscious young man as he gets naked in the pre-title scene. As the film progresses, Léo’s body, which is frequently on display, is used, bruised and abused.

Viewers may feel as battered as Léo by the film’s end.

Vidal-Naquet follows his subject as if he were shooting a nature documentary. He films a cluster of male sex workers in their native environs, peacocking and often shirtless to attract a client’s attention. He chronicles Léo plying his trade, as well as stealing fruit to eat, washing or drinking water from the street and sleeping wherever he can.

How long Léo has been doing this and how he got to this point in his life are not the film’s concern. Léo shyly admits that he enjoys what he does — it may explain why he is willing to kiss his clients — but it may also be his only option.

“Sauvage/Wild” wisely does not judge its characters; Vidal-Naquet merely presents them as they are. When Léo is seen sucking cock in one scene and doing drugs the next, he may hustle for a score. When he dances at a nightclub or a party, he may be releasing his pent-up energy or trying to seduce a client.

Does Léo want to be rescued from his life on the streets? The film lets viewers decide.

Léo is very good at giving affection. He is tender with an old man who hires him but can’t quite consummate sex. He is especially caring toward a disabled man who pays Léo and Ahd (Éric Barnard), a fellow hustler, for a threesome. This may make Léo sympathetic, but he can also be unkind at times.

Léo is very much in love with the gay-for-pay Ahd and while Ahd protects Léo, he adamantly does not reciprocate his friend’s desires. Léo’s efforts to change Ahd’s mind result in ugly confrontations and punches.

“Sauvage/Wild” is mostly plotless as it follows Léo around the streets of Paris, but it is never boring. Léo’s trysts with various clients are perversely fascinating. He has a particularly intense session with a couple who, tired of oral sex, lube up a rather large butt plug and forcibly insert it in the concerned Léo.

In another session, Mihal (Nicolas Dibla), a fellow sex worker, asks Léo to inject a drug into his penis that will knock out their client. Léo accommodates these requests, and his responses to the encounter reveal details about his character and emotions.

A touching, candid visit with a sensitive female doctor (Marie Seux) is most illuminating. Léo has serious health and respiratory issues. When he stops mid-examination to hug his doctor, “Sauvage/Wild” is suddenly poignant and moving.

For much of the film, Léo’s emotions are calculated. Even when he meets Claude (Philippe Ohrel) — one of those rich older men Ahd repeatedly tells Léo to find in order to exit hustling — Léo is cagey. How he pursues this opportunity gives the film some dramatic tension.

Léo’s ineluctable sexiness may be exactly why he is desired by clients and strangers. Maritaud gives a tremendous performance, capturing Léo’s palpable despair with incredible body language. He displays an innocence under Léo’s jaded exterior.

When a client asks him to read something, Léo balks, embarrassed by his illiteracy, and changes the subject. When he gives into his passion to kiss Ahd, he absorbs the shock of Ahd’s slap or punch. Léo is a lost soul, putting on a brave face, and Maritaud allows viewers to know what he is thinking.

Moreover, much of what Léo feels is written on his body. He has numerous tattoos that look homemade, and his skin is often marked with bruises. He is palpably filthy. Léo’s grunge might make him appealing at times, but it is almost a relief when someone gives him a clean shirt to wear. Viewers may be anxious to see him shower. (When Léo’s hair is washed and combed in one scene, it may take a moment to recognize him.)

As for the copious nudity, Maritaud’s lack of inhibition contributes to his mesmerizing performance and the sympathy he is able to garner for Léo. It is hard not to gasp when the camera follows Léo and he just falls down in the street.

“Sauvage/Wild” is compelling and moving — and much of that is because of the magnetic Maritaud. 

 

“Sauvage/Wild” opens May 31 at Ritz at the Bourse, 400 Ranstead St.


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