What gritty new film Sauvage tells us about gay sex work

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We called it ‘the gay prostitute film people walked out of at Cannes’ back in August.

And sexually explicit French movie Sauvage – starring magnetic rising star Félix Maritaud – has lost none of its provocative power now it’s finally hitting cinema screens. (It’s out now in the UK and 10 April in the US.)

While the film itself is indeed shocking – in it, a 22-year-old hustler is subjected to increasingly disturbing abuse from clients, while searching for emotional connection and romance anywhere he can find it – it was a recent comment by Felix to The Guardian that, for some, is the biggest bombshell of the film’s journey so far. At least for some.

Speaking about the word ‘f*ggot’ – a word you can imagine the main character, Leo, using – Felix told the publication: ‘Society has spent its time describing me like that to put me to one side. Me, I’m empowered enough now to lift up my head and say: “Yes, I’m a f*g.”’

Félix Maritaud as Leo in Sauvage | Photo: Provided

‘”Gay” is so cheesy – I’m not a sexuality. I’m a person’

His view caused a huge reaction (a GSN poll on the legitimacy of the word prompted thousands of responses). And the day of his interview with us, Felix, – previously seen in hard-hitting drama 120 BPM, about HIV/AIDS activists in 90s Paris – fiercely defends his position.

‘I’m happy it’s split people, I’m happy there’s debate,’ he says, before adding that, for him, ‘I don’t want to be a “homosexual”. I don’t want to be “gay”. I’m not gay, I’m a fucking punk. Gay’s so cheesy. I’m not a sexuality. I’m a person.”’

Here, in addition to the politics of words, Felix, along with director Camille Vidal-Naquet discuss how they researched Sauvage, their views on protecting sex workers, and how they approached nudity on set.

Have either of you had any homophobic reactions from anyone who’s seen the film?

Felix: Nothing.
Camille: It’s surprising that we didn’t. That doesn’t mean people didn’t have homophobic thoughts, maybe. I thought we’d receive messages. As a director, I’m more protected. Felix is more exposed.
Felix: [But there have been] no insults, no hurtful reactions, nothing like this.

Did you spend time with sex workers to prepare for the film?

Both: Yes.
Camille: A lot, after I wrote the first draft. I joined a charity in Paris that specializes in helping homeless people. There’s a special spot in Paris for gay male hustling. I joined, in the beginning, because I wanted to ask questions. They’d do roams at night. I’d join them. I met a lot of guys doing this. I developed bonds. They welcomed me, actually; told their stories. To be honest, I was moved by them. All the characters are inspired by these guys I met. They were 90% straight men.

Really?

Yeah. There were a few gay men hustling. Most were straight. This is why I wanted this character to be gay. He’s isolated. He’s the only one. You’d think this is a gay community, but it’s not. They’re straight, their clients are just work. For the main character, every client is a potentially desirable person. He’s looking for love and tenderness and everybody can find it.

Sauvage director Camille Vidal-Naquet | Photo Provided

There are two particularly heinous characters in Sauvage who abuse Leo – a gay couple who try to use a giant butt plug on him. Who inspired them?

Camille: They came from what sex workers told me. That sometimes clients think – and this is an interesting view on how capitalistic the world has become – that today, when you have money, you can buy everything.

So some clients, when they pay you, feel they have the right to treat you like an object. There’s a service you have to provide, because you’re paid for it. You dehumanize someone, use him as a toy.

The giant butt plug is a toy, and this hustler is a toy. I thought it was important to show that it’s a very dangerous place. Nobody is there to protect them. You can’t go and be brutalised by those bullies, and then go to the police, because what you do is illegal.

Do you think the first step to protecting sex workers is legalizing it?

Felix: Sure. I mean, it’s so [hypocritical]. You know the people who makes rules to stop sex work, the oldest work in the world, are the same that use sex workers to have sexuality. To protect people, you have to consider them first. If you try to avoid something, you are not protecting anyone. Nobody’s asking sex workers what they need.

They think ‘We know the right thing for you.’ There’s many different posts of view on sex workers. Some want it legalized, to declare the money, to tax the money. Others want it to stay in this uncapitalistic world where all the money’s in cash and nothing’s declared. Underground money. I’m not a specialist. But I think it’s dangerous to avoid something rather than watching what the reality is.

Camille: I wouldn’t know what this answer is, legalized or not. It would need years of research because it’s so complex. But, I have this feeling about the politics; making laws and trying to find solutions. I’m always wondering, do these people go and spend time with them? When do these sex workers talk, express themselves? I never see them! We should hear them before making a new law. They never have visibility.

What’s the process of ensuring, when sex and nudity is happening on set, that everyone is happy and comfortable?

Felix: For me, it was important to shoot every scene without any [particularities]. These are workers who treat sex like work. There is no particular statements. They’re not erotic scenes. It’s sex work. When you’re shooting an erotic scene, something with sensuality and stuff, yeah, you are changing the set. But sexuality is a tool for these workers, like a calculator.

Camille: We just needed to consider it’s not an erotic film. The body of the actors is not the goal, it’s the tool. That’s very different. ‘I’m filming your body because you’re using it for your job, that’s all.’ In the film, there are very few scenes where they undress. Usually, they’re already naked. Because I was not interested in stripping. Which to me is an erotic thing.

Felix, I did a poll around your ‘f*g’ comment. It got 400 comments. Are you surprised it split opinion so much?

Felix: [That] article is so boring because we were talking about a lot of important things and the journalist turns it.

The other thing is, it’s generational. Maybe people in their 40s, 50s, they’ve been so many times insulted by the f*ggot word, they have a trauma with it. My generation, we’re going to live longer.

It’s exactly the same with the n-word for black people in the US. ‘You’ve been insulting me all my life, so I own this word.’ It’s a word, you know? It’s a word. I hope when younger people than me read that stuff, they can the next day at school if insulted as a f*ggot say ‘yeah, I’m a f*g.’

For more information about Sauvage, visit www.sauvage.film.

See also:

Here’s the trailer for Sauvage – the gay prostitute film people walked out of at Cannes

Chloë Grace Moretz weighs in on straight stars playing LGBTIs, makes crucial point

 

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