The Movie Waffler New Release Review - SAUVAGE | The Movie Waffler

New Release Review - SAUVAGE

sauvage film review
The ups and downs of a Parisian rent boy.

Review by Benjamin Poole

Directed by: Camille Vidal-Naquet

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

sauvage film poster

Talk about an opening scene… In the first moments of Camille Vidal-Naquet’s sensual, superlative gay drama Sauvage, we see lead character, street hustler Léo (Félix Maritaud, it is a shame that he is so very ugly etc) ostensibly having a routine check-up with his local GP. What starts off as standard soon begins to seem a little, uh, intimate, and, yep, before anyone can say bend over and touch your toes, Léo’s quack is swiftly wanking the willing patient off. And just as you’re regretting that this isn’t a service offered by our dear old NHS, it becomes clear that Léo is a rent boy, the doc’s surgery is a loan, and the entire situation is a living fantasy orchestrated by the older punter. He’s not even a real doctor: when Léo (who is 22 but skews younger emotionally) asks if he can prescribe him something for his cough, the john scoffs that he "works for the IRS" ☹. Thus, Sauvage’s vivid world of ersatz experience and artificial love, and the poignant need for real affection which abides beneath the paid-for-passion, is established in a manner which is as confrontational as it is intense.

sauvage film review

We quickly discover that Léo’s cough is exacerbated by his crystal meth and crack habit, along with his means of funding his drug use, which is to hang around the streets and clubs picking up men. Or is it that simple? One of the exciting paradigms of Sauvage is that it never comes down moralistically on its hero, and, in fact, at certain points remonstrates that its protagonist enjoys the spoils and experiences of street hustling for the sordid adventures it entails. And so, we join Léo in a dérive about the city streets as he is commodified, vilified and sodomised in a modern Jean Genet novel come to carnal life. And what a page turner! Léo’s life is a dark fantasia of make-believe experience: the fake enhancements of hard drugs and the pornographic intensity of prostituted sexual encounters (and it is intense, the sort of sex scenes which are not hardcore, but have that naughty tang of I-shouldn’t-be-watching-this realism) adding up to a lifestyle which may be immediately thrilling but is ultimately unfulfilling. The boys that Léo works and parties with form a fraternal bond, and in their down time they hang out at airport runways and bridges over railway stations to watch departures, as if pining for the next big adventure. Perhaps it is only natural, then, that young romantic Léo goes and falls for another brass, the beefy hard man Ahd (Éric Bernard - a sort of Latino Jon Bernthal), who flirts with and protects our dopey boy but who is sadly gay-for-pay.

sauvage film review

Of course, it is not Ahd which Léo wants, but the fairy-tale, the something he cannot have. Léo is a dreamer who makes a living in lust but believes in love. If it wasn’t Ahd, it would be some other brute with cheekbones he’d pine over. When he picks up an older punter, after an abortive attempt at penetrative sex ("ah! It’s too painful! I’m too old!"), Léo listens to the pensioner reminisce about his deceased wife, and then the two fall asleep in each other’s arms. Likewise the raw moment when an actual doctor is giving Léo a much-needed MOT and he grabs her and she holds him gently for an agonising minute or so. Forget the verisimilitudinous shagging, these scenes feel much more intimate and intrusive, because genuine affection is almost impossible to fake or, indeed, purchase: such is its perceived value to Léo.

sauvage film review

Sauvage made me cry at least twice, not because it’s sentimental (which it is, slightly) but because of the honesty with which it portrays its central character and his lifestyle choices. And Sauvage refreshingly suggests that Léo has made a choice. In a brilliant moment involving the female GP, she starts to give Léo advice on how to kick the habit and get off the game, to which Léo balks: "Why would I want to stop?!". Like the doctor, I had taken for granted that Sauvage would eventually resort to a typical tale of redemption. Thankfully it never does, and prostitution is portrayed sympathetically from both sides: as a fairly efficient way for young and pretty men to make bunse and as a valuable service for certain men (one of the punters is in a wheelchair, others are too old to have experienced being young and out). Yes, the pitfalls of sex work are just as gaudily depicted, but again these moments (an eye watering encounter with a butt plug and a quick huff of poppers, Léo nodding off in the gutter of an evening) are presented as is; the necessary shade to the bright lights of clubbing and the warm sunshine of the forests where Léo and co ply their trade. A dangerous, dirty and deeply felt one-night date, it is a shame that Savauge comes out early March as for some audiences this could have been the perfect Valentine film.

Sauvage opens in select UK cinemas nationwide on 1st March. Q&A previews also run from 26th February. More info at

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