Morally complex, skilfully performed French thriller from Robin Campillo
A transgressive sexual connection gives way to a deeper, far more risky bond in this elegantly made and morally complex French thriller. Daniel (Olivier Rabourdin) initially solicits young Latvian immigrant Marek (Kirill Emelyanov) solely for sex. Lonely, and seemingly besotted with the lad despite limited shared language, he isn’t put off even when the boy turns out to be part of a gang of unscrupulous thieves, whose Fagin figure is the distinctly dangerous Boss (Daniil Vorobyev). But as Daniel grows concerned for Marek’s future safety, and Boss becomes aware of the connection between them, danger mounts for all concerned.
Writer-director-editor Robin Campillo, known for the zombie movie The Returned, is adept at managing shifting emotional tones, and this makes for a film that never tells its viewers what to think. Eastern Boys allows its issues – sex, love and citizenship as commodities; the comparative shame and culpability attached to a fondness for much younger sexual partners; the differences between using lust, need, violence and the law to get what you want from people – to emerge through the progress of a story that is slow-burning, but unpredictable and sporadically gripping.
A tendency to dwell on the detail of scenes can render the storytelling somewhat laboured; the film’s two-hour-plus runtime, clearly excessive for its story, is perhaps indicative of a certain downside to directors editing their own work. No-one’s very sympathetic either, but the performances are first-class throughout, with even the smallest parts undertaken with impressive intensity and commitment. Jeanne Lapoirie’s cinematography is also striking, contributing with its wide, slow shots and careful background detail to the film’s unsettling combination of cool reserve and creeping peril.
Selected release from Fri 5 Dec.