One always suspected that being a male prostitute in Paris would be soul-deadening work, and probably hazardous to one’s short-term and long-term health. But what French director-writer Camille Vidal-Naquet reveals in her well-constructed but grim debut, “Sauvage / Wild,” is how tedious the job is.
The movie follows one young street hustler, identified in the press notes as Léo, though if anyone calls him that in the film, I missed it. Léo (played by Félix Maritaud) is 22, lean and muscular, and spending much of his day along one street with other prostitutes waiting for clients to drive up.
It’s established early that Léo is different than other prostitutes because sex isn’t just a commodity to him, but something he actually enjoys. For example, he’s willing to kiss his clients, an act of sensual tenderness that other guys, like his quasi-mentor on the street, Ahd (Eric Bernard), don’t do.
There’s not much of a plot in “Sauvage / Wild,” but there are moments. Like when Léo and Ahd are working together on a client, and Léo sees a chance to flirt with Ahd while also servicing their john. Or when Ahd tries to push away another prostitute, Mihal (Nicolas Dibla), who undercuts the accepted price of services. Or when Ahd reunites with an old “sugar daddy” (Joël Villy), leaving Léo alone on the street, and teaming up with the shiftless Mihal.
In between, there’s a lot of down time, where Léo is sleeping in the park, or smoking crack, or waiting along the boulevard waiting for the next score. His health is steadily declining, and the audience waits to see whether he will pull out of his slow, dispiriting spiral.
Vidal-Naquet’s observational eye, her talent for zeroing in on telling details in Léo’s street life, is one of the highlights of “Sauvage / Wild,” as is Maritaud’s fearless and tender performance. They don’t necessarily make “Sauvage / Wild” more engaging, but they make a viewer excited for what the filmmaker and actor might do next.
‘Sauvage / Wild’
Opened April 10 in select cities; opens Friday, May 17, at the Tower Theatre (Salt Lake City). Not rated, but definitely NC-17 for graphic simulated sex, nudity, language and some violence. Running time: 99 minutes; in French with subtitles.