Camille Vidal-Naquet's feature debut, Sauvage is the bruising and beautiful tale of a Strasbourg street hustler

Film Review by Joe Goggins | 15 Mar 2019
  • Sauvage
Film title: Sauvage
Director: Camille Vidal-Naquet
Starring: Félix Meritaud, Eric Bernard
Release date: 1 Mar
Certificate: 18

Sauvage’s opening scene – which sees its protagonist (Félix Maritaud) at what appears to be a doctor’s appointment – ends with a sleight-of-hand trick that sets the tone for a film that subtly subverts expectations throughout.

Maritaud’s Leo is only ever named in the press notes; throughout this feature-length debut from Camille Vidal-Naquet, he remains anonymous. Between that and the movie’s title, you’d be forgiven for thinking you could see where Sauvage was going; from the outside looking in, it has the look of a gritty, unflinching treatise on sex work, homelessness and the way in which both might gradually dehumanise those involved. Instead, it’s the opposite – frequently as beautiful as it is bruising, never moralising but not lacking in empathy for its subject, either.

Leo is a Strasbourg street hustler and, in practical terms, seemingly aimless. Unlike some of his colleagues, his pursuit of sex work doesn’t have a primary, tangible purpose, like the funding of a drug addiction or a way of getting a leg up out of abject poverty. Instead, his motivations are far more primal: he’s looking for emotional intimacy and acceptance more than anything else, preferably with fellow hustler Ahd (Eric Bernard).

Ahd’s detached, eyes-on-the-prize ruthlessness holds up an effective mirror to Leo’s gentle naiveté, affectingly played by rising star Maritaud. The audience’s sympathy for the character is derived less from the increasingly harrowing experiences he goes through and more that his tender nature is never blunted by them. Sauvage’s ending will polarise opinion, but neither side of the argument could claim that it undoes Vidal-Naquet’s remarkable work to that point – painting a delicate portrait of the fine line between resilience and vulnerability.

Released by Peccadillo Pictures