By Emma Siverthorn @HouseOf_Gazelle
From its opaque start through to its ambiguous denouncement Robin Campillo’s Eastern Boys is a brilliantly complex exploration of power dynamics. In the opening scenes, the Eastern Boys, (hailing from the Ukraine, Russia and Romania), roam the Gare Du Nord, their purpose and intention unclear but their sense of pack protection obvious. Yet as the film progresses this sense of immigrant solidarity quickly darkens and shifts to something more akin to captivity than camaraderie. The leader of the boys gang, (wonderfully played by Daniil Vorobyov), is pimp like; only ever referred to as ‘Boss’, he is the provider of both fun and finance, alternately charismatic and frightening.
Campillo however refuses to allow the audience to form simple judgements of his characters and the designations of victim and exploiter shift from moment to moment. This shift being especially prevalent in the early punter/rent boy encounter between middle-class, middle-aged French business man Daniel (Oliver Rabourdin) and paper-less young immigrant Marek (later Rouslan, played by Kirril Emelyanov). Daniel is undoubtedly on the inside and Marek and his friends are undoubtedly ‘other’. Yet Marek and the gang easily entrap and shame Daniel and so for a moment hold power. This win however is shaky at best, within the context of their lives. Marek/Rouslan is it turns out an orphan, his parents having been killed in the Chechnya war. Even excluding this traumatic background, the sense of social isolation and exhaustion felt by Marek and the other boys is palpable and the difference between their lives and Daniel’s is vast.
Eastern Boys adroitly manages to tackle such weighty issues as immigration, the power of naming and the strain of commercial sexual relations turned romantic, whilst maintaining the pace and interest of a thriller; a nuanced and emotive portrait.Highly recommended.
Eastern Boys is released on December 5th.