Eastern Boys is a film from French filmmaker Robin Campillo about exploitation, alienation, compassion, endurance and love.
Campillo is known for writing or editing most of director Laurent Cantet’s films, including The Class.
In Eastern Boys Marek (Kirill Emelyanov) is a young Ukrainian illegal immigrant who is a member of an Eastern European gang in Paris.
The gang meets middle aged Daniel, played by Olivier Rabourdin, who tries to pay Marek for sex.
Instead Daniel is tricked, humiliated and robbed by the gang. Daniel stays calm throughout the experience, gently accepting his fate.
The gang invade his home and take everything. Daniel does not need to be restrained and is not physically harmed by the gang as they remove the entire contents of his flat from around him.
This is the first indication of the complexity of Daniel’s character, and the story the film will tell.
After the robbery, Daniel does not seek revenge. His motivations are ambiguous but it’s clear he is isolated and sad.
Later Marek returns to the flat and Daniel pays him for sex. This begins an agreement of paid sex between the two.
Gradually they get to know each other. Daniel begins to see Marek as a person and connects with him. Marek talks about the war in Ukraine and the death of both his parents.
He appears tough, but is clearly traumatised by the war and this changes Daniel’s attitude to Marek.
From an exploited and exploiter relationship, a friendship begins to emerge.
Daniel asks Marek to leave the gang and offers him help to do so. They then devise a plan for Marek’s escape.
The film is beautifully shot with wide, clear, stark scenes reflecting the bleak storyline.
The story raises important questions about the nature of being an illegal immigrant and the choices, or lack of choices, that Marek is faced with.
The plot is harrowing, but it is also punctuated with moments of
compassion and love that are heartbreaking beautiful.
The characters are not particularly good or bad or predictable. They are complex and multilayered.
Characters change and grow through their experiences.
The film shows the corruption, injustice and isolation of the system that we live in. But it also shows the strength, tenacity and complexity of the humans living within it.
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