Loitering around the train station, Daniel, a fifty-something Frenchman, has his eye on Marek (Kirill Emelyanov), a handsome foreigner. After soliciting the young man, they agree to meet at Daniel's apartment the following day. But the boy that knocks at the door is not Marek, and is clearly underage. What follows is a series of incidents that upend Daniel's life and threat his security.

 

3.5

SYDNEY FILM FESTIVAL: You may recall the sex tourism film Heading South depicting a pre-AIDS paradise where middle-class women could freely indulge themselves with the fine-figured men of Haiti. The co-writer of that controversial film, Robin Campillo, is at again with his second film as a director, Eastern Boys. This time the sexual milieu is Paris. The objects of desire are young men of Eastern Europe who illegally flock to the French capital to pull scams and are willing to do anything to survive.

Daniel (Olivier Rabourdin) is an urban professional with an apartment on the outskirts of Paris who – probably not for the first time – picks up an attractive adolescent from a rowdy ensemble of immigrant teens carousing around the railway platforms of Gare du Nord. For some unexplained reason, Daniel can’t take home the young hustler Marek (Kirill Emelyanov) straight away. Instead, Daniel freely gives Marek his home address and an appointed time to meet the next evening. Right on time the next night – not Marek but the youngest of Marek’s gang turns up. The pre-pubescent, but street-wise, brat pushes his way into Daniel’s apartment, threatening to scream “paedophile” before providing admission for his fellow gang members. With the malevolent “Boss” (Daniil Vorobyov) leading the way, Daniel’s planned sexual liaison is substituted by a rave as the small army of mostly male refugees loot his home.

A skilled editor, with nine features to his credit, Campillo squeezes every last iota of drama out of this opening scenario, playing it like a Michael Haneke home invasion. The intensity is accentuated by the gravitas of Rabourdin’s controlled playing and the vitality of Vorobyov. It’s a powerful introduction. The scene stakes out the personalities and when the real Marek turns up to join in the ‘fun’, Emelyanov provides his character with a certain mystique.

Unfortunately, logistic problems emerge. Would a man as clearly driven by precision as Daniel make himself that vulnerable to a street hustler no matter how attractive he found him? Perhaps Daniel’s a trusting, kind guy. When his cleaning maid comes in the morning after the home invasion, obvious emphasis is placed on her non-Gallic origins. Perhaps Daniel sees himself as the champion of the underprivileged and the Ukrainian youth has played on his soft and blind spot. But would a bunch of hooligans trash and loot someone’s house, but still leave them with credit cards and sufficient cash to pay their maid the next day? Doubtful.

But if you didn’t question that, then it may not bother you when the Marek returns to the apartment days (weeks?) later to move the story into its second act. It’s certainly credible that Marek would try and shake down Daniel again, but it sees very unlikely that such an apparently well-balanced and controlled man would fork out 50 Euro to have sex with someone who has cost him so much already (worldly goods, peace of mind etc.). Daniel could clearly afford to hire a less risky prospect. (He quickly begins to refurnish his apartment.) It’s not that these things never happen or smart people can’t do stupid things for lust, but nothing in the film really explains why Daniel takes these risks.

As the relationship develops between Daniel and his increasingly frequent lover, Marek, the plot’s logical lapses go into remission. The strength of the performances invigorate the film and for a while make it quite compelling. Having established a character as strong as Boss, the story inevitably returns to the Russian gang-leader in its dramatic third act. Unfortunately, the script problems return with Boss and too many convenient coincidences accumulate, overwhelming the fine acting. As the various plot points are played out, the details and the motivations get murkier. The film flirts with compassion for refugees, but it consigns a swathe of innocent parties to deportation without a second thought. The late arrival of Edéa Darcque as a motel manager adds another fine character during the third act proceedings, but with its questionable moral “if you are good to your sugar daddy, he’ll be good to you,” Eastern Boys is undeserving of their fine efforts.