When Sauvage first opens, Leo (Felix Maritaud) is in what seems to be a doctor’s office. The older man examining Leo asks him to take his clothes off. Right after that, the scene turns on a dime and the man gives him sexual pleasure. The scene establishes the tone for the entire film which is a chaotic and rather unflinching look at the life of a sex worker. It’s quite graphic in terms of its sexual content. However, it still thrives thanks to its central performance and impartial filmmaking style.
Twenty-two-year old Leo (Felix Maritaud) lives on the streets as a prostitute. As Leo sells his body and bounces from client to client, he tries to find a connection while satisfying his drug habits. However, in his search for love, he ends up becoming a walking contradiction. He tries finding love but he keeps pursuing it in the wrong place and rejects it in the right place. Also, his self-destructive behavior is brilliantly orchestrated by the actor portraying him.
Felix Maritaud previously had a supporting role in BPM (Beats Per Minute), another exemplary French queer film. But in this film, which he carries entirely on his shoulders, he is captivating in each frame. Despite the movie going into some heavy places, Maritaud still provides enough star magnetism to keep our eyes glued to the screen. Not to mention, in the film’s heaviest sequence, Maritaud hardly utters a word.
During a threesome between Leo and a goth couple, Leo keeps getting mistreated. As the couple forcefully shoves a dildo up Leo’s rear, the camera focuses on Maritaud’s pained face. It may be one sequence but it still provides a grand demonstration of how sex workers not only get taken advantage of but the people that mistreat them seem oblivious to their pain. That particular sequence only adds to the film’s gut-wrenching notions.
Also, while Leo may have a difficult personality, Maritaud still never shies away from the vulnerability that he feels over his struggle to find a man that can give him a stable home or a place to stay. But even when an older client named Claude (Philippe Ohrel) kindly lets him just stay the night after engaging in consummation, Leo still rebuffs him. Partially, because of his pursuit of Ahd (Eric Bernard), a fellow hustler who aggressively rejects any possible notion of the both of them having a relationship.
Inadvertently, Ahd’s rejection causes Leo to go on a downfall. However, the film never judges Leo for wanting to be with him regardless. Ahd seems like an ideal man for him. A physically masculine man who can protect him from clients, like the aforementioned goth couple, that take advantage of him. Even if Leo keeps wanting what he cannot have, one can sympathize with his pursuit.
For some, it might be difficult because Leo becomes defiant to the help that he desperately needs. However, the film still does it job at becoming a character study that doesn’t demand viewers to sympathize with Leo. Instead, it allows viewers to decide whether they want to go on Leo’s journey with him. In addition, it’s a terrific character study and Felix Maritaud easily gives one of the year’s best performances. It becomes quite an uneasy watch but Maritaud’s portrayal still makes it worth watching.