Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Robin Campillo
Stars: Olivier Rabourdin, Kirill Emelyanov, Danil Vorobyev.
Eastern Boys offers an exploration of gay male sexuality, xenophobia, and the immigration problems plaguing Europe in the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union. Illegal immigrants from the former Soviet Union come to major European cities where they eke out an existence as grifters.
In this compelling drama from former editor turned director Robin Campillo (The Returned, etc), a group of young former Russian youths linger around the main Paris railway station, looking for potential victims. In particular, they prey on middle aged gay men, using good looking youths to lure the men into a trap.
One such victim is Daniel Muller (Olivier Rabourdin, from Taken 2, etc), a well dressed but closeted businessman who catches the eye of the handsome undocumented Ukrainian youth Marek (Kirill Emelyanov, from Bastards, etc). He invites Marek back to his lavishly furnished apartment for sex, but is surprised when a gang of thugs turn up. They force their way into his apartment under threats of blackmail, and the begin to party hard while systematically looting the place. And of course Muller can’t report them to the police, which is what the gang count on.
Shortly afterwards, Marek turns up alone, and a relationship begins between the two. Marek, whose real names is Rouslan, tries to keep the relationship a secret from his gang. Eventually Muller develops a more paternal concern for Marek and convinces him to leave the gang and start a new life. Which is when the situation grows more intense and dangerous.
Eastern Boys begins slowly and undergoes a number of tonal shifts as the film unfolds in four distinct acts. Campillo uses long takes to develop the narrative tension and create a distinctive atmosphere for the drama and, stylishly, the home invasion sequence is reminiscent of Michael Haneke at his creepiest.
Campillo also effectively uses tracking shots and close-ups. The film opens with a tracking shot through Paris’ Gare Du Nord, courtesy of cinematographer Jeanne Lapoirie, who has often worked with Francois Ozon (8 Women, etc) There is an extraordinary almost dialogue-free sequence in which the gang strips Muller’s apartment while throbbing disco music pounds on the soundtrack. But Campillo slowly ratchets up the tension and suspense as the film moves towards its climax as Muller tries to help Marek escape the clutches of his gang, who are illegally holed up in a hotel on the outskirts of town. The climax is quite gripping and claustrophobic.
The two central performances are also solid. Rabourdin looks like a Gallic Kevin Spacey with his perpetually downbeat and gloomy expression, while Emelyanov is sympathetic as the naive and vulnerable Marek. There is a wonderful and palpable chemistry between the pair, and the audience cares about their relationship. And Danil Vorobyev is quite menacing and chilling as the gang’s psychopathic and controlling leader, simply addressed as “boss”.
Eastern Boys is an intense and provocative gay themed film, but it is a lot more complex than a brief synopsis would suggest. Eastern Boys is also powerfully erotic although the moderately explicit sex scenes are handled delicately. Director Campillo juggles a number of important and contemporary issues such as the plight of refugees, ideas of identity and nationality and sexuality, and class.