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Sauvage Shows the Gritty Life of a Gay Sex Worker

'Sauvage' Shows the Gritty Life of a Gay Sex Worker

The French film doesn't shy away from the realities of the work.

For 22-year-old Leo, a gay prostitute in Strasbourg, France, turning tricks is more than a job. It's his life. And he doesn't see a way out, because he doesn't want to change. The hustler, played by BPM alum Felix Maritaud, has unrequited feelings for Ahd (Eric Bernard), a fellow sex worker who insists he's just gay for pay. In the clip above, the two share a terse, yet tender moment together. Maritaud spoke to The Advocate about playing a role that bucks preconceptions.

The Advocate: How do you think your role confronts people's preconceived notions of sex workers?
Felix Maritaud: I think it confronts people to their notions of personal freedom and freedom of choices, not only about sex work but also more globally. There's a common preconceived notion that says that prostitutes are never free to do it. The movie shows someone that is confortable with his own prostitution, it shows a character who s free enough to do what he wants even if it does not fit society or mass culture.

We hear two characters call Leo a "fag," but we never hear how he identifies. How do you think he relates to that word? How do you relate to that word?
I think the character is out of all those conceptions that belong to a society construction he's not in. He's just having desire of tenderness for men. I think that we'd been called fags since forever so this word belongs to us, faggots, and as soon as young fags will empower themselves enough to appropriate this word for themselves, it will not be an insult anymore. This is political.

How did playing this role change your perceptions of gay sex workers?
It has not changed. I still have lots of respect for those guys and hope society is gonna evolve enough to protect those workers a little more. The thing is that we never ask them what they need; it will be a first step to better life and conditions I think.

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Felix Maritaud as Leo in Sauvage

Writer/director Camille Vidal-Naquet has created a debut feature film that unflinchingly looks at the pain and risk associated with the job, but also keeps a keen eye on Leo's inherent tenderness and intimate connection with nature. The filmmaker told The Advocate how he held that judgment-free look at the life of this young man.

What I find fascinating about Leo is that he doesn't see why he would change his ways, as evidenced by the affecting scene with the female doctor. What were you aiming to say about our preconceptions of sex workers?
Camille Vidal-Naquet:I tried to avoid passing judgement on Leo's life. I tried to avoid this dichotomy between what we call "the right life" and "the wrong life." I think there are just different kinds of lives.

What I find interesting in that scene with the woman doctor is that Leo does not answer her in a provocative or rebellious way, he simply does not understand why she's asking him to change his life. He's just totally honest and sincere in his answer. And on the other hand, whereas it seems obvious for the doctor, she is just completely unable to give him any reasons to change his life.

I think nothing is that obvious, there are no simple answers to complex situations. In that regard, the aim of the film is to get the viewer to understand these boys instead of judging them. The film invites you to simply be with them and share their lives for a while.

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The film is especially relevant in light of the recent news about two black men who died in the home of political donor Ed Buck in West Hollywood. Did you discuss fear and the threat of death with Felix when developing the character? Do you think Felix has any privilege in line of his work because he is white? Do you imagine it makes him safer than sex workers of color?
I didn't talk with Felix about big concepts like death. Our work was entirely focused on the instant, on just being present. While preparing the shooting, we only focused on the actions, the movement, the body. We molded the character of Leo by working on his actions, on the way he keeps still while he waits for customers, the way he walks when he's angry, the position of his body when he feels uncomfortable. We never talked about psychology.

I also made Felix follow a choreographer's workshop, to help him be in total control of his body, to help him be constantly in touch with his emotions of the moment. Leo is a fearless character. And this gives him the strength to be totally free.

There are so many different forms of prostitution. Sauvage deals with male street hustling. Leo's way of prostitution is very specific. It has a high level of danger. These boys hustling on the streets are outcasts. They don't have access to the security of a home, they are not protected by anyone, by any rules. A lot of these guys are migrants, coming mostly from Middle East or Eastern Europe. Some of them were born and raised in France. All of them are in danger in one way or another.

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Eric Bernard as Ahd in Sauvage

With the recent ban of sexual images on social media sites like Tumblr, a renewed attacked on sexual expression is dangerously impacting sex workers. What message does your film have in our current cultural context?
Again, I tried not to pass any moral judgement on sex representations. In Sauvage, sex is work. Sex is just the job of these boys. I tried to film it like any other job. It's just an ordinary reality, the reality that many prostitutes have to face every day. It was important for me to give visibility to people who don't have any. Everybody knows that male street prostitution exists. But who knows exactly what the daily life of a man hustling on the street looks like?

Sauvage is now playing in New York City. It opens in Los Angeles April 26.

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