In the discreet, subdued, and wholly engrossing Eastern Boys, director Robin Campillo (co-writer of The Class) depicts a hesitant, gentle companionship that blossoms alongside weighty topics such as illegal immigration, gay sex, and May/December relationships. A compelling story unfolds as two individuals, each from thoroughly disparate backgrounds, meet, mature, and meld within the confines of an ambiguous affair.
Presented in four parts, Boys opens with an overhead shot of the Gare du Nord train station in Paris and the chapter title “Her Majesty?The Street.” Young Eastern European teenagers, fit and attractive on the surface, but with misspent, meandering demeanors, loiter in front of the station and on the platforms inside. They yammer and roughhouse with each other while seeking paying customers to take them home for the night.
Daniel (Olivier Rabourdin, Taken), fifty-something in a suit and bearing a briefcase, is one such client. He spies the slim, elfish, dolefully handsome Marek (Kirill Emelyanov), a late adolescent illegal immigrant, and asks to render his services. Alas, Daniel’s request comes at a much higher cost than originally agreed upon, but it also sparks a scintillating diversion that ultimately redefines the lives of both Daniel and Marek.
Daniel’s proposition leads to a home invasion by Marek’s accompanying gang of Eastern Bloc rent boys, led by their charming, simmering Boss (Danil Vorobyev). Daniel loses most of his possessions, including barely-used exercise equipment and a flat-screen television.
Marek returns days later to fulfill his original sex-for-hire agreement. But then he keeps coming back. As their relationship evolves, Marek reveals his real name (Rouslan) and his horrific family history in war-torn Chechnya, while Daniel develops unexpected paternal leanings toward the lonesome youth.
Campillo builds his narrative in jolts of captivating slow motion. Significant moments of intensity unfurl in casual, lingering sequences. While letting go of their previous securities is initially uncomfortable, the evolving relationship between Daniel and Marek becomes nourishing and transporting for both.
The same-sex aspect of Daniel and Marek’s relationship is mostly inconsequential, as Boys’ substance relies less on defying societal norms and more on the burdens and pleasures of finding someone to love when underlying circumstances are far from ideal. Rabourdin shines as a cautious, quietly compassionate man, and Emelyanov breaks out as a resourceful, competent, but deeply scarred young man searching for identity and sanctuary. The film defies story line expectations with subtlety as its characters learn to unburden themselves from their own insecurities. With Eastern Boys, Campillo has made a stunning feature that absorbs without relying on sentiment.