Directed by Robin Campillo
Opens February 27 at the Film Society of Lincoln Center
A lesser movie—or a more coherent one—would have ended with murder. The first of Eastern Boys’s four chapters begins menacingly enough: a gang of youths pace their territory outside the Gare du Nord in Paris. They’re Russian-speaking, but not necessarily Russian; they’re petty criminals, but avoid any real hassle with the police. Cinematographer Jeanne Poirie shoots the boys from above, and in the wide open light of late afternoon they trail long shadows. So does natty, middle-aged Daniel, heading home after work but stopping to pick up Marek. Marek is probably legal, age-wise, but only just; he’s almost certainly a sans-papiers. He’ll do everything, he explains in English, for 50 euro.
What follows in chapter two is almost a neat colonial parable. Just as Daniel (Olivier Rabourdin) has finished strapping on clean white sneakers, all of Marek’s friends—but not yet Marek (Kirill Emelyanov)—enter his expensively cluttered flat. They open Daniel’s liquor, turn on music, and as Boss (Daniil Vorobyov) both mocks and hypnotizes Daniel—here’s youth, forever lost, here’s beautiful blue-eyed recklessness—they dance in the living room and carry out all of his belongings. Eventually Daniel, too, begins to dance. He wakes on his own couch, in an emptied apartment strewn with broken glass. He does not call the police. He returns to work. Later, he buys a few pieces of Ikea-style furniture. His home stays stylishly empty through the next two acts—in which Marek, perhaps out of a vague sense of guilt, returns to fulfill his 50-euro promise.
The parable is necessarily inexact, because Robin Campillo, who directed, wrote and edited, seems interested primarily in the nature of exchange. Daniel and Marek’s evolving relationship progresses the way H. Humbert’s with his ward would have, had he succeeded in taming or tamping down desire. But what would those family dinners have been like? Daniel, happy to pay his lover’s way, retreats into a sexless, fatherly position—and Marek needs one, it turns out, his family having been destroyed in the Chechen wars. The film is suffused with deep, tranquil, natural light, but any claim to rectitude is troubling. In one late scene an entire immigrant ecosystem is destroyed for Marek’s sake. For your Rights of Man, who pays?