Sunday, February 22, 2015

Robin Campillo's odd, moving and surprising immigrant love story -- EASTERN BOYS

One of the many things I love about the films of Robin Campillo (shown at right) is how interested he is in all his characters. As a writer/director, he's made two fine films: this new one and They Came Back, one of the most unusual zombie movies of all time in which the undead return and instead of feasting on human flesh, simply want their jobs and homes and loved ones back again. As screenwriter-only, Campillo has given us three terrific films: Time Out, Heading South and The Class, all of which, whatever plot is involved, once again help us understand the situation and needs of the various characters we meet -- to the point at which we are no longer so easily able to take sides.

In his new film EASTERN BOYS, he begins with a gay pick-up in and around the Parisian railway station Gare du Nord, below, of a young man (an Eastern European immigrant) by a middle-aged well-off Parisian. Where this initial assignation leads and how it gets there prove anything but the usual scenario of so many of our gay-themed films. The resulting movie is a beautiful, subdued knockout (although its penultimate scene is quite exciting and would not be out of place in a suspense thriller) -- once again, because we come to understand so well the situation and needs of so many of these characters, we find ourselves identifying with both victims and the so-called villains.

M. Campillo is here tackling several themes -- immigration (which is as hot-button a topic in France as it is all over Europe and America), survival, gay life, and the buying and selling of sex and "love." His take on all of these are what you might expect from a filmmaker as attuned to life as he is to art: realistic but aware of the ways in which need and desire can cloud intelligent thinking.

Our protagonists are played by two actors who give indelible performances: Marek (later to be known as Rouslan) is played by Kirill Emenyanov (above, left),  a young actor who has performed a bit in Russian television and film, here making his western debut; as Daniel, Olivier Rabourdin (below, left) is a French actor I've seen numerous times without really noticing him -- something that I doubt will ever happen again.

Both actors come to life about as fully and beautifully as you could want, especially given Campillo's insistence on not offering up much exposition. He allows the two men to fill in their own characters via behavior -- and they absolutely do this. Each man takes an unexpected course and brings it to believable, pulsating life.

We also get to know the group of young men (one of them particularly young) of whom Marek is one, especially the gang's leader, played by Daniil Vorobyov (above, center), a nasty character whom we initially hate -- until we begin to understand him and his odd situation, as well.

As Campillo moves from the study of a group situation into the specifics of a relationship and back again, we begin to understand things more fully. While I might have wanted a bit more explanation by the older man to the younger of why and how their relationship is changing, thanks to the fine performances I am willing to buy into all this and finally go with the filmmaker's desire for less exposition.

As also is usual in the work of this artist, Campillo offers up a look at class and economics via the haves and have-nots. As is also usual, the filmmaker does not indict the entitled Frenchman simply because he has been given what he has. Instead, it's what he does with this that counts.

Eastern Boys -- from First Run Features; 128 minutes; in French, Russian and English, with English subtitles as needed --  which I expect will appear on a few best-of-year lists come the close of 2015, opens theatrically this Friday, February 27, in New York City at the FSLC's Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center, in New Orleans on March 6 and the Zeitgeist Multi-Disciplinary Arts Center, and in Vancouver on April 17 at the Vancity Theater. Click here to see any further scheduled updates as they are booked.

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