|A scene from Eastern Boys.|
By John Esther
"Her Majesty the Street" (AKA Part 1) is filled with young males from Eastern Europe. Uzbekistan, Macedonian, Russian, Romanian and Ukrainian teenagers and young men swarm and play together on the streets around the Gare du Nord train station and nearby shopping centers.
Teasing each other like less-cultured people tend to do, protecting each other from the authorities who would deport them, and scheming together to survive, these Slavic transients have fled the harsh conditions of their home countries and landed in Paris.
For most of part one, viewers essentially eavesdrop and survey them during another sunny day in gay Paris. There are no subtitles. For all intents and puposes they are to remain strangers until the friend is met -- or a hired lay as this case may be.
Obviously somebody with money, Daniel (Olivier Rabourdi) approaches one of the young men, Marek (Kirill Emelyanov). Through broken English and French the two manage to arrange a rendezvous for the next day at Daniel's house.
When the next day comes, it is not what Daniel had planned. He has been conned. Surrounded by strangers in his own home, the home invasion is a rather intense scene. If Daniel makes the wrong move he could be hurt. To complicate matters, Daniel is also a bit aroused, at least excited about the change in events and having so many young people around him.
A few days later, Marek comes back, looking to cash in on Daniel's need for a young man. Seemingly unphased by what has transpired, a la the home invasion, Daniel agrees and they have one of the most awkward sex scenes you could imagine. Could it be anymore obvious that Marek is only doing this for money? Perhaps Daniel appreciates the dettachment?
As weeks pass by, the relationship changes in its arrangement and in its tone. It seems these two men are looking for is something a lot more sophisticated than a client-prostitute relationship. Could they be friends or something else instead? Of course, back at the cheap hotel where the undocumented live, this does not bode well with Boss (Daniil Vorobyev) and the rest of the gang. Comrades for life!
Set in four parts, director Robin Campillo's Eastern Boys tackles solidarity and solitude, economic class, language and lingering ages -- managing to remain engaging throughout most of its two hours-plus running time.
Granted, none of the characters is particularly likeable and their motives seem less sympathetic -- though their pasts have obviously scarred them. Marek's need for Daniel is rather obvious. Daniel provides Marek income and some stability. As a price, Marek must offer his body, but he seems so uninterested in what is being done to his body, you wonder if he has endured worst. Well, at least psychologically he has.
Daniel's motives are certainly less clear and they somewhat change unexpectedly in the film. The trope is not entirely convincing but somehow forgivable as the narrative actually becomes more interesting henceforth. But, then again, he has been a rather unpredictable character all along.