Eastern Boys – Venice 70 Orizzonti
A highly narrative dramatic – romantic film by by Robin Campillo dealing with male prostitution and the trafficking of boys from the Eastern Europe in France. Winner of 70th Venice Orizzonti section.
Robin Campillo is a French filmmaker who is mostly known for his long collaboration with director Laurent Cantet. Campillo has first worked as an editor and then as co-author in some of Cantet films, like the Palm d’Or winner Entre le Murs (The Class, 2008). He made his debut in directing in 2004 with the art-house zombie drama Les Revenants (They Came Back). Eastern Boys is his second feature-length film and has been participated in the Orizzonti section of the 70th Venice Film Festival.
A gang of various boys from the Eastern Europe is moving along the Gare du Nord train station in Paris. They’re been followed by a discrete fifty-year old man, Daniel (Olivier Rabourdin). His attention is caught by one of the boys Marek (Kirill Emelyanov). When they finally talk, they arrange a meeting at Daniel’s place, Marek is a prostitute. The prospective rendezvous will end up differently since the whole gang and their Boss (Danil Vorobyev) appear at Daniel’s place. Through that situation Daniel and Marek will know each other better.
Eastern Boys is a film that starts quite prominently, continues and follows a narration that could keep high tension but in the end it doesn’t satisfy its promises. The story is divided in four chapters that each one of them has a different setting and main theme. The initial chapter, Her Majesty the Street, is set in Gare du Nord and it is an impressive prologue since Campillo works quite well his image through voyeuristic longshots. The following chapter, This Party of Which I am the Hostage, is almost exclusively shot in Daniel’s apartment with literally no external shots and follows the invasion of Boss’ gang. Quite claustrophobic and thrilling creates vivid scenes that are covered by electronic dance music.
The third chapter, What We Make Together, stays in Daniel’s apartment and is the most intimate one since it explores the relationship between him and Marek. The first two chapters and halfway the third are quite well worked up and they feel focused on film’s main issues with many emotional peaks. Unfortunately that well-build creation falls flat for the rest of third chapter and the whole fourth one, Halt Hotel – Dungeons and Dragons, which is set it gang’s hotel. During those parts the film becomes extremely predictive, with no real surprises and quite obvious upcoming. The final result looks really uneven especially during the final scenes and leaves the impression that Campillo wasn’t capable of controlling his work.
Eastern Boys is a highly narrative film and should be criticized as that. Campillo’s choice to move in close spaces is interesting but also safe. When his screenplay betrays him there are some real issues to deal with. The central idea is of course not original, but it is quite well set and it differentiates in the fact that this time we are dealing with a relationship between a man and a boy. Campillo decides not to focus on the social or political aspect of these boys’ lives and he simply accepts that as a reality fact and moves to the romance. Fortunately he doesn’t ignore completely the situation but when he really decides to explore that issue he doesn’t offer something really useful.
Somehow, Eastern Boys, in terms of creativity, is a déjà vu of Campillo’s debut film Les Revenants. They both start with an interesting and quite open with possibilities idea that doesn’t evolve as needed and it is followed by a flat and banal second part with an unimpressive finale. The director doesn’t seem capable to enter the world that he creates and take advantage of his heroes. Inevitably this is obvious in the performance of his protagonists since sometimes they appear a bit lost and repetitive. Probably a film which would be shorter in duration and would have a complete different finale could save Eastern Boys since they are simply victims of their initial expectations.
In order to be fair Robin Campillo’s decision to deal with male prostitution and the trafficking of boys from the Eastern Europe is interesting. Also when this background is used as a base for an open homosexual romance looks at least bold. Unfortunately the epidermal approach of these highly sensitive issues combined with the missing creativity don’t allow to Eastern Boys to be the influential social drama that Campillo could make.