Among the prizes up for grabs in Cannes, 15 films this year are competing for the Queer Palm, an independent award which recognises the treatment of LGBT themes across the programme. Sauvage, the debut feature by film studies professor-turned-director Camille Vidal-Naquet, offers an entry with a skin-prickling energy that remains – regardless of what it might take home.
In an entirely handheld (but always precise) frame, Leo (Felix Maritaud) wanders the streets of Strasbourg. He’s looking for, and looking to sell, love. A role play doctor, a man in a wheelchair and an ageing widower craving to be held; Leo’s clients are as curiously fascinating as his body is welcoming. There are no forgettable people or unnecessary events. Vidal-Naquet’s script is sharp, brimming with passion across a lean 97 minutes.
Sauvage carves a story through its handsome characters, rather than providing a distanced commentary about the community of male prostitution. Faces immediately ooze empathy and disgust in turn; laughter is infectious when Leo folds into child’s pose as he lies down for a doctor, but it’s difficult to watch while two clients make him bleed and he can’t beg for it to stop.
Breaking taboos and challenging the confines of what we know about male sex workers, Sauvage is brave and carefully insightful. But first and foremost, it’s a story about a boy who’s still searching for himself. Searching for affection, searching for control, Leo wanders and skips across the steps that bruise his body and prod at his heart with tenderness.
Off the back of queer sensation BPM with a career-shaping role, Maritaud is magnetic as Leo. At once lost and painstakingly focused, he has the cheeky sex appeal of a brooding teenager and the childlike kindness that is so difficult to maintain once your heart has been broken. And the actor immerses himself physically as well; from the nipple piercing so loved by his customers to the many tattoos scrawled over every inch of his skin.
Just above the belt you can read: “Rien à foutre” tattooed in a bold gothic typeface, which would loosely translate to something about not giving a fuck. It’s not used as a plot point or commented on by anyone – but in this clue lies the achingly beautiful contradictions of Leo, and of Sauvage. There is nothing to care about that aligns with the prejudice, vanity, or malice that the preconceptions of this lifestyle tend to suggest. But the instinctive, often reckless hunt for love is what gives the film its beating heart.
Orginally published on Little White Lies