4.5 stars
This is not a date movie. This is an intense, gruelling and utterly exhausting experience.
The formidable Eastern Boys, Robin Campillo's sophomore film (one far removed from his zombie thriller nearly a decade ago), is an adjunct to 2009's The Class for which he developed the screenplay. It revealed the impossible conditions of teaching in the French education system and while the intimidating young men in this film are all immigrants, it's not a stretch to say they reflect a troubled social order which the kids in The Class have grown into.

The ordeal for fifty-something Daniel starts when he solicits Marek, a Ukrainian teenager who works the edgy Gare du Nord train station in Paris. When he arrives at Daniel's flat, so does his Fagan like Boss plus a dozen others who have an impromptu party while stripping Daniel's apartment bare. What can he do? He invited them in. Paralysed by the absurdity of the situation as well as the group's psychotic leader, Daniel's response is the first of many provocations Campillo has in store.

Served on a bed of red hot tension, the film's three acts each have a distinct rhythm. The haunting, dialogue-light first act becomes a mesmerising experience. When Marek returns unannounced in the second, Daniel's wholly unexpected response is a springboard for what comes next: Eastern Boys is a constant challenge to expectation and preconception. 'What would you do?' asks Campillo, over and again. And the decisions Daniel makes in the coming minutes, hours, days and weeks prove endlessly fascinating.

Set firmly in a real and tangible world, Campillo's powerful production forces constant re-evaluation of ideas about prostitution, age disparity, immigrant thugs and economic traps. There are many moments that may seem illogical, but none, on reflection, that ring untrue. Led by an enigmatic Oliver Rabourdin (Of Gods And Men), the solid cast bring a rugged narrative to a searing conclusion. Eastern Boys may be one of the most thrilling love stories you see this year. But it's not a date movie, far from it.


Previewed at The Reelroom, Sydney, on 20 May 2014

4 stars
It is high time this very original film found a screen. The premise is so simple and the storytelling so uncluttered that it cannot fail to lodge in your mind. Director Robin Campillo seems to be letting the film meander a little. At first this might seem a mistake but it greatly ads to the verisimilitude and, watched in the right frame of mind, it is utterly absorbing.

We open with a patient establishing shot of the famous Gard du Nord train station in Paris. It is a bustling place for commuters but it is also an all-day hang out spot for many immigrants from Russia and the Baltic republics (the Eastern Boys of the tile). What are they actually dong there? We are not sure, but somehow it feels dodgy and a little threatening. Undaunted by their supercilious stares an older gay man called Daniel (Olivier Rabourdin) cruises by. He catches the eye of a youth called Marek (Kirill Emelyanov) and they fall to chatting. Marek says he will come to Daniel’s house out in the suburbs and an implicit pact is made.

However, when Marek turns up he brings a dozen eastern boys with him and things get confronting. The theme of home invasion is one of the raw nerves of cinema going right back to A Clockwork Orange, the granddaddy of them all. There is something so personal and, well, invasive, about the idea. Campillo knows how to touch those strings lightly but what really surprises us is where he takes the film after that opening half hour or so. Part of the power of the film is the strong presence of the gang and there is a great half-psycho turn from Daniil Vorobyov as their ‘boss’.

This is a film to be experienced first and only analysed or mulled over much later. It is not that it is impactful - although in places it definitely is – so much as mysterious and deeply human. The relationship between Daniel and Marek, half love, half avuncular, never gets completely mapped out. Nor is the acting absolutely perfect but the rough edges and untrained looks actually deepen the sense of realism. It’s a strange little film in so many ways but it is so refreshing that it never over-explains or panders to its audience. There are one or two moments that don’t quite ring true towards the end but, overall, it has a quiet originality which deserves to be seen.


Previewed at The Reelroom, Sydney, on 20 May 2014

Olivier Rabourdin
Kirill Emelyanov
Daniiil Vorobyov
Edéa Darcque

Robin Campillo

Robin Campillo
Gilles Marchand

France (subtitles)


128 minutes

February 26, 2015
Eastern Boys (2013) on IMDb