A Young Man’s Quest for Love
“Wild” looks at about a gay male sex worker who is looking for love. Director Camille Vidal-Naquet brings us a sensual ode to freedom. The lead character is unnamed and is played by Felix Maritaud The film has many sequences showing him engaged in sexual acts of all kinds with his clients including caresses, fellatio, penetration and experiments with sex toys but the film “neither demonizes sex as perverted or mindless, nor eulogizes it as the pinnacle of pleasure.”
The opening sequence takes a very surprising turn that beautifully sets up the film’s playful explicitness that is never gratuitous. Because our main character’s work is presented as a regular part of his life, “Wild” normalizes not just gay sex, but also sex work, yet it does not gloss over the problems it can lead to nor discount the wonderful connections it can bring.
The film’s realist style, with a handheld camera and crash zooms, underlines the material reality of the hustler’s situation, but he isn’t looking for work or money, it is love he’s after. He is a painfully romantic man who saves his kisses for the men he loves. We soon see that he loves many men. The affection of strangers does not and cannot satisfy the young man. No matter how hard he might try to forget, there is another sex worker (also unnamed) who has his heart. “Wild” shows us complex representations of love (from connections with sexual partners to intense romantic passion and uses frank portrayals of sex work and gay sexuality.
Increasingly consumed by his passion, our young sex worker begins sleeping rough, and develops a worrying case of pneumonia. In its third act, the film turns into an unflinching portrait of homelessness, its title suddenly taking on another, less poetic meaning. This ambitious film carefully addresses all the ramifications of its lead character’s life with an energy that avoids cliché and instead is “a work of rare vitality.”
When the film opened at the Cannes Film Festival, it was described as “having the sensibility of the Marquis de Sade and filmmaker Maurice Pialat, presumably for its documentary-like naturalism.” Vidal-Naquet introduces us to the hand-to-mouth life of a male sex worker, 22-year-old. The film realistically acts out the tricks of the trade while the young hustler remains an idea, a blank slate without his own strength to deal with brutal and degrading encounters. His trajectory is rigid and his fatalism tone feels preordained; we know from the very beginning that he will not have a happy ending. We learn little about him and he appears scruffy with a slight, muscular built. He “works” in Strasbourg in a park with little traffic and he is right alongside a diverse group of young streetwalkers, waiting…. As the camera zooms in on conversations and potential pickups, we, the viewers, become complicit as voyeurs as many scenes come close to documentary-porn.
Early on, he is paid to participate in a three-way involving a john in a wheelchair and Ahd (Éric Bernard), who, though he has sex with men and is willing to be taken care of by a sugar daddy, insists that he is not gay. His story line reinforces at least two stereotypes: that of gay-for-pay homophobic rough trade and the gay man, our hustler, who hopelessly longs for him. Even the other hustlers notice the look on the young man’s face when he glances upon Ahd but Ahd rejects him not through his words but with his fists.
The director has created intense, incredibly intimate sex scenes, yet the characters remain one-dimensional and this affects the realism of the film. I understand that people were so upset bout the graphic sex scenes that many walked out and listed this powerful film.
As portrayed here, the hustlers’ world is sealed off, as though they are living in a vacuum. Hardly anyone has a phone, and our boy only has one set of clothes. One of his tricks calls him filthy and smelly and he is— his jeans are coated in mud, his sweater has stains, and he has a bloodied lip. For someone who has been living on the streets for some time, he does not have street smarts and finds himself in situations where he has no voice. His only motivation seems to be getting high on hash or crack cocaine, and he never expresses a concern about money or what he has to do to earn it. There is a strong focus on the young man’s childlike qualities and one of those, of course, is the need for love. He leads such a dejected life that we even see him drinking water in a street gutter.
Maritaud holds our attention even when we do not understand what is going on and it’s not just because he’s an actor acting out private behavior in public. He gives the film the soul that we sense throughout.