Updated: Apr 1, 2019
Director: Camille Vidal-Naquet
Sauvage very much lives up to its name. It not only shows the unflinchingly drastic extent to which a young gay prostitute with a drug problem will go to both feed his habit and keep himself alive, but it is also animalistic in its choice of locations and its sound editing.
The area where the protagonist Léo, a kind of elfin version of Romain Duris, streetwalks for clients in competition with other gay prostitutes, is immersed in nature. Even though a road runs straight through it, and the deafening roar of car engines pollutes the air, it is hard not to see these men sizing up one another as strutting stags amongst the foliage.
Unfiltered masculinity and homoeroticism abound. Cut-aways to establishing shots of the unforgiving urban landscape are accompanied by the metallic shriek of engines, brutally tearing the viewer away from this strangely idyllic setting of the working boys’ pick-up spot.
Léo could be a character straight out of a Victor Hugo novel - young, drug-dependent, vulnerable and with an aggressive tuberculosis-type cough, it is almost too much of a cliché. But where this film really excels is how it avoids the stereotypes of prostitution and focuses instead on the realities of the job, which many sex workers have vocally advocated for as part of their necessity in this world – catering for the disabled, the elderly, the lonely. One particular scene with an elderly widower who eventually just wants to be held close by Léo, who readily agrees, is so touching, probably because delicately unfolds deeper aspects of Léo’s personality. Despite the often sordid nature of his job, Léo is a loving and affectionate person, and he gives his love freely, with an innocence that runs deep in his very being. This innocence and naivety leads him into dangerous moments that are almost too unbearable to watch, and this film very nearly falls into the Bury Your Gay trope with how graphically distressing and sadistic some of the scenes are.
Nevertheless, it just about saves itself from this with its enigmatic ending, a gorgeous and achingly slow zoom-in on Léo lying in a foetal position. Having fled the stifling boundaries of an attempted ‘normal’ life, he once again finds himself immersed in nature, and in this final scene he is like a peacefully sleeping faun, at home in the wilderness once again.