With the release of Man At Bath in France this fall, François Sagat will break new grounds as he crosses a difficult frontier between pornography and cinema. The French porn actor, who started his career filming pornographic videos with the french studio Citébeur (under the pseudonym Azzedine), was the picture perfect fantasy of a beefed up suburban young man. His now trademark head tatoo gave him an immediately recognizable figure amidst an industry that tends to produce clones. While his porn career strived internationally, with an exclusive contract with Titan Media, Sagat was striking the imagination of art photographers, fashion designers (such as Bernhard Willhelm) and graphic artists, who liked for example to show his buttocks as a cake missing a slice. Sagat is actually no stranger to the fashion industry, where he started his professional life, and he explores his own creativity in a blog, a collection of self-made personal video oddities including him acting as a kitten, or brushing his teeth while singing a Britney Spears song. He eventually became a muse for a post-porn queer world, with his casting in L.A Zombie, Bruce La Bruce's sci-fi porn, which was recently censored in Australia (probably a blessing in disguise).
After a small part in Saw VI and in a short film by Olivier Nicklaus, what was missing in Sagat's career was a lead role in a traditional film. The transition from porn to auteur has already been attempted in the past, most notably by Rocco Siffredi in Catherine Breillat's Anatomy of Hell. But there are many more examples of actresses taking that leap, including Tracy Lords in John Water's Cry Baby, where she played the greaser daughter of incredibly sweet parents played by Patti Hearst and David Nelson. But my personal favorite is Karen Bach in Virginie Despentes' revolutionary film Baise-Moi, where she showed incredible talent in her portrayal of a character on a murderous rampage: every shot she's in becomes mysteriously disturbing, at once seductive, terrifying and heartbreaking. Since then, more and more auteur films tend to show sexuality in a realistic way (including TV shows such as Tell Me You Love Me), which should open new opportunities for porn actors, usually less complicated when it comes to giving the director, what shall I call it? A "total performance"?
But the casting of Sagat in Man At Bath still comes as somewhat of a surprise, since the film is directed by Christophe Honoré, known for his melancholic films about intellectual parisian youth (Love Songs, Dans Paris), a universe quite far from Sagat's massive tattoos and tanned biceps. Honoré explained he was interested in Sagat because he "redefines the notion of masculinity", a construction which Sagat likes to toy with, by sometimes appearing in high heels or fishnets, a daring move for a gay porn actor, expected to embody a heightened virility at all times. A boldness that eventually paid off by getting him the respect from the art scene that porn actors usually lack. The film opens in theatres on september 22nd.