Félix Maritaud ignites the screen as Léo, an attractive 22-year-old gay male prostitute in writer/ director Camille Vidal-Naquet’s blistering drama “Sauvage/ Wild.” Léo is seen plying his trade with various customers when not taking drugs or sleeping wherever he can (often in the street itself). Léo is not well; he has a bad cough and he’s got it bad — that is, is in love with — Ahd (Eric Bernard), a sexy gay-for-pay hustler pal who looks out for him but doesn’t love Léo back.
“Sauvage/Wild” is mostly plotless as it follows Léo over time, from an intense encounter with a couple of clients with a butt plug to a touching visit with a female doctor (Marie Seux), who tries to help him.
Maritaud gives a tremendous performance, capturing Léo’s despair and inchoate desires with incredible body language.
Vidal-Naquet shoots the cruising area scenes like a nature documentary, but “Sauvage/ Wild” is a raw and immersive experience.
Via WhatsApp from Paris, Maritaud talked about playing Léo, and making “Sauvage/Wild.
GARY M. KRAMER: There is no mention of how Léo got into prostitution, or how long he’s done it, or why he enjoys it? Can you discuss your thoughts about the character and his backstory?
FÉLIX MARITAUD: The idea was to provide no information about the character but give tips about him. We wanted to stay with this strange feeling. You don’t know anything about him, but by the end you know him perfectly. You get no info. I am not working through psychological things. I don’t have ideas about the background or future of Léo — he only exists in the movie. He’s the hero and living through the movie. We don’t need anything else.
KRAMER: What is distinctive about your performance is how expressionless Léo can be at times. Can you talk about finding his mindset?
MARITAUD: Léo is about sensitivity. His desires come to him and he does what he wants. I don’t think he cares about money. It’s about connecting with people and being social, to be with his friends. What upsets him when he’s not paid is that the [clients] were breaking the link — it’s honor. Léo has no designs on materialistic life. He doesn’t have a phone. He sleeps on the ground. He’s just passing through life looking for love wherever he can find it.
KRAMER: How did you identify with the character?
MARITAUD: I’m not looking for love. It was not research. I have a really bourgeois life. We are very different but have some common points. I wish I could be as strong as him, actually. What makes him strong is what makes me weak. I wish I was like him—where I could find strength in my vulnerability.
KRAMER: You appear to be very comfortable with your body. Léo is used, bruised, and abused. His body is his only value and his weapon. Can you talk about how he uses his body, and how you use your body?
MARITAUD: I like this idea of using your body to create things. This comes from my experience as an art student and how artists, through history, use their body as tools and use their control of the body in spaces — how that brings in ideas about society and art. I want to live my life as an experience, and my body is my way to get through this experience, so I want to stay open-minded. It’s body positivity, too.
KRAMER: You recalibrate your performance with each man or couple Léo meets. What observations do you have about Léo’s sexual encounters?
MARITAUD: We wanted to show what real hustlers and street life were like through prostitution. They approach their body in a very particular way — as a tool. So, everything from my character is from my body, there is no psychology. The sex scenes are done without judgment or eroticism. We wanted to stay raw and crude.
KRAMER: Léo is very accommodating to his clients who want him to do certain things, like a butt plug or even his colleague who want him to inject his penis with a solution. What is the wildest thing you’ve been asked to do?
MARITAUD: In my life? I’m pretty sure you don’t want to know. For “Sauvage/ Wild,” the injection was the most impressive thing. A friend thought I really did that. It was just water. “Sauvage/ Wild” was intense. But I’m stronger after this movie. This character is really, really strong. Nothing bad can happen to him. Even the worst thing, the butt plug scene, is funny. That was a strange day. The guys were nice, but I was really focused on the scene. Léo wants to honor the deal, but he’s also feeling like he’s not being treated as a human anymore.
KRAMER: What are your thoughts about being objectified?
MARITAUD: I don’t care about this. People always think that what other people think about them is something they can control. I have no solution for people loving or hating me. Sometimes it can be funny, and it’s not helping me fuck more men, but people who see “Sauvage/ Wild” are impressed — but they don’t’ know how to talk to me because they feel intimidated! People are attracted to me, but that is a part of life for a gay young guy. Now it’s changing because of all the gay roles. I’m inspiring for gay young people. I like it, but I just do my characters. The rest is myself.
SAUVAGE/ WILD | Directed by Camille Vidal-Naquet’s | Strand Releasing | In French with English subtitles | Opens Apr. 10 | Film Forum, 209 W. Houston St. | filmforum.org