I have to start this review by saying that I went to the SFF screening of Eastern Boys under slightly false pretences.
Reading that the film was directed by Robin Campillo, whose credits include Les Revenants, I jumped at the chance of reviewing it. As others who were lucky enough to get onboard with the TV show will know, The Returned, as it was translated into English, is a brilliant Emmy-award-winning TV series from last year that had me spellbound from the opening credits to the “let’s-leave-them-hanging-for-Series-2” final scene.
Campillo directed the original film version of The Revenants from 2004, which I haven’t seen, but neither have read overly favourable reviews of.
Pushing through my disappointment, I headed down to one of the SFF hubs, Event Cinemas on George St, on Thursday evening and dove into the wonderfully busy throng of excited SFF movie-goers queuing for miles back to get into a session of one film or another – admittedly, it was pretty exciting to see so much buzz around the festival.
Finding my cinema, a sold-out looking session, I settled in to watch Eastern Boys.
Eastern Boys centres around an encounter between a gay man and a street prostitute whose chance meeting sets up a scenario where the worlds of different groups of the dispossessed collide, with a range of outcomes few would guess at by film’s end. The opening sequence of the film is a great “in” for the audience. Over about five to eight minutes of non-dialogued action we bounce about the Gare Du Nord train station in Paris, following a group of young men who might be prostitutes or might not – playful-seeming boys with just a hint of menace about them. When fifty-something Daniel catches the eye of one of the lads, Marek, a short game of cat and mouse ensues until Daniel confronts Marek with his desire and is rewarded with the offer of a sexual encounter for fifty euros.
Sadly for Daniel, without wanting to drop in spoilers, chaos ensues.
Even with production values and performances of a high standard, the material that Eastern Boys covers and the way it is shot give it a low-budget feel, and I mean that in a good way! Olivier Rabourdin as the seemingly docile Daniel, and Kirill Emelyanov, as his sexual obsession Marek/Paul, hold their own admirably, building their emotionally-charged relationship journey to its unexpected conclusion with a tender believability. Dani Vorobyev also deserves a special mention as “Boss” in a “ticking time bomb” Lord of the Flies kind of way as one sits and waits for this human well-spring of anger, resentment and who knows what else to go off at any moment, which he inevitably must.
Campillo’s directorial hand seems very light – you can sense him gently guiding the actors through the action and yet in a manner whereby there feels to be much license for the cast to discover their own way through some fairly complex scenes and issues. At times I was reminded of American Beauty, which mostly stems from the correlation between the two films of the protagonists (in terms of the nature of the Daniel/Marek relationship) and the way Campillo has guided this, the manner in which the film is shot, in particular in the intimate scenes, and because there is something very Kevin Spacey about Olivier Rabourdin!
Thematically, Eastern Boys successful conveys its message in terms of highlighting the plight of the refugees in France at a time when nationalism is once more on the rise, up against the notion of love and how it is might best be expressed. What was less successful, although still worked to some degree, was the uneven chapterised structure of the film and, more noticeably, the transition of Daniel and Marek’s relationship to its final shape. At just over two hours (which admittedly flew by, clearly the sign of a film that took the viewer in), maybe there just wasn’t quite enough time to execute this in a believable manner, for although I enjoyed the film overall, the final sequence felt rushed and less thought out.
Eastern Boys tackles the issue of the nature of love and dispossession in a way that will confront some, but the evolution of the relationship of its main characters is difficult not to become involved with.