Eastern Boys is full of surprises. It’s not a stereotypical gay love story nor is it a predictable drama. The film, which was co-written and directed by Robin Campillo, was nominated for a number of 2015 Cesar Awards (the French equivalent of the Academy Awards). True to its international feel, the film features dialogue in several languages including French, Russian, Ukrainian, and English.
The film begins with an extended sequence featuring a virtual bird’s eye view of a small but suspicious looking group of young men roaming around a bustling Paris train station. Although nothing is directly spelled out, it’s obvious that the members of this gang are up to no good, which is demonstrated when one of them is chased outside by a security guard.
Eastern Boys begins when Marek, one of the youthful hustlers, catches the eye of Daniel, a middle aged businessman. The older man, who’s skillfully portrayed by Olivier Rabourdin, is characterized by his understated demeanour and remains a rather mysterious figure throughout the course of the movie. Nowhere in the film is it explained what he does for a living nor are viewers given any details as to his personal history. Although he approaches Marek for sex, it’s obvious by his nervousness that this isn’t something he does on a regular basis. Kirill Emelyanov plays the troubled Ukrainian hustler and brings a great deal of heart and authenticity to the role.
Initially Eastern Boys seems to be the story of an unlikely love affair or perhaps a drama warning of the dangers of prostitution. Instead, however, the plot takes a surprising turn when Daniel and Marek’s money for sex transaction morphs into a home invasion and full scale robbery. Later, the narrative gets even more complicated when Marek appears back at Daniel’s door. The film then shifts gears and focuses on the relationship between the older man and troubled hustler. Although Eastern Boys includes several sex scenes, they aren’t the main focus of the drama nor are they depicted in an overly graphic or sensational way.
Eastern Boys isn’t a typical “gay genre” film. Instead, it interweaves an unpredictable tale about the growing emotional bond between two men set amidst topics such as war, politics, and poverty. The fact that Daniel is gay isn’t important to gaining an understanding of his character. His quiet disposition and loneliness serve to provide insight into the motivations behind Daniel’s actions. Likewise, Marek is a soft spoken teen who hides his feelings while struggling to stay alive and make a life for himself. Perhaps the most revealing scene concerning his character occurs shortly after Marek reveals the horrors of his war-torn homeland. That night the young man is awakened by the sound of festive fireworks (which to him is reminiscent of exploding bombs). The sheer terror on Marek’s face leaves no doubt as to the devastation he’s witnessed in his short lifetime.
The last portion of Eastern Boys resembles an exciting thriller rather than a gay drama. The movie is compelling and features complex characters and a gripping plot. Although on a superficial level the movie is about the relationship between a prostitute and his client Eastern Boys is less about sex and more about loss, love, trust, and the resilience needed to move on with life.
Eastern Boys is available now on DVD from First Run Features.