Monday, December 22, 2014

"Eastern Boys": powerful film looks at the street life of illegal immigrants (including a gay hustler) in Paris, with political ramificiations

Eastern Boys”, by Moroccan-French director Robin Campillo, is a powerful film about not only the politics of immigration and sexuality, but also about personal engagement with others.
Daniel (Olivier Rabourdin) is a relatively fit gay man in his late 50s, well-to-do and living in a comfortable condo high rise in suburban Paris.  One day, near  a train station in north Paris, he runs into an attractive hustler Marek (whom we later learn Is Rouslan, from Ukraine), played by Kirill Emelyanov, and makes a deal.  But Marek asks for his address and want to come the next day.
The door knocks “tomorrow” all right, but it is a tween, who warns that he is a child and that Daniel will get in trouble with the law for soliciting a minor if he doesn’t go along with the scheme.  A horde of about ten young men (mostly straight) and one or two women come in with successive knocks, in a “home invasion” where they take Daniel’s electronics and art.  But then Rouslan shows up, and Daniel indeed falls in love with him, and begins to support him with an allowance.  When Rouslan returns to the cheap hotel where the other illegal immigrant kids hang out and hide from the law, Daniel winds up having to “rescue” him.
This is a long film (128 minutes), which I reviewed from a screener (First Run Features), although it may be a director’s cut and some scenes might get deleted before formal release in February 2015.  It is in four “chapters”, almost as if it had been conceived as a cable TV series once: “The Mystery of the Street”, “The Party of which I Am Hostage”, “What We Mean Together”, and “Hotel: Dungeons and Dragons”.  The film is shot in full 2:35:1 and has a grand look, and was obviously very professionally shot and edited (with Studio Canal).
The first ten minutes, around the train station, have almost no dialogue:  you hear the street noise of a Paris “gare”, often viewed from the air.  Immigrant boys behave in odd fashion, at least one jumping and riding piggyback on the back of a stranger.  I’ve never seen that happen in person when in Europe or anywhere.  I’ve been around a lot in areas like this, in Paris, London, Glasgow, Birmingham, Brussels, Amsterdam, Toulouse, Lisbon, San Sebastian, Hamburg, Stockholm, Oslo.  In fact, I do remember that an older man tried to pick me up at a hotel bar in Kiruna, Sweden when I was 28.  All this comes to mind.
Daniel seems to be a somewhat detached loner as the film starts, and we don’t get much information about what he “does”, in work, or in any kind of self-expression.  He seems to be a bureaucrat, not particularly artistic.
The film touches on some political hot points:  legal recognition of gay relationships (marriage itself doesn’t come up, but it could have, at the end), and gay rights in Eastern European countries.  Were Rouslan to get deported, he could go back to a country somewhat hostile,  The movie doesn’t say this directly, but his circumstances would get even worse if he is from eastern Ukraine or Crimea and it gets taken over by Russia, with its anti-gay laws. This film won’t please Vladimir Putin. 
Visually, the movie somewhat plays up the stereotypes.  The camera keeps emphasizing Rouslan’s smooth, hairless body, contrasting it with Daniel, who looks a bit like an oaf.  You would wonder if Rouslan himself is underage, even though socially he seems very street smart and mature, even articulate.
I don’t see awards for this film;  I would have expected it to win some in the festival circuit.

The official site is here. for First Run and Peccadillo.    Apparently it comes to some cities very soon (New York, LA, etc).  This sounds like a good film  to show in DC at the West End Cinema, or for an HRC screening with Reel Affirmations.  About half of the film is in English; the rest is in French, with some Russian and Ukraine, with subtitles. 
Wikipedia attribution link for shot of Paris similar to film opening (photo by AFP - French Press Agency as author, CC-SA 3.0, unported).. 

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