What stands out in this Robin Campillo film is the contrast between sound and silence. There’s no soundtrack, so to speak. There are words in Russian, English, French, but few. Most of the sound that exists is the wind, and breathing. This is where it lays its hypnotic quality, that made it win Best Film in Venice* and Santa Barbara**.
Daniel (Olivier Rabourdin) is a middle-aged man, with a good job and a comfortable existence, that falls in love with the face of male prostitute Marek (Kirill Emelyanov) at Gare du Lyon. Having scheduled to meet the next day at Daniel’s house, he is then surprised by the visit of a whole Eastern boys gang that proceeds to party on his flat, and steal all his valuables, in the most surreal robbery ever done on film. The next day, however, Marek knocks on Daniel’s door, and their “business” relation starts. Slowly, however, the nature of the relationship starts to change, but is Marek strong enough to go against his friends?
The cinematography of Eastern Boys, courtesy of Jeanne Lapoirie, is one of its strongest points. Empty spaces, minimal framing, and a bluish light that involves everything and yet still keeps a warm quality. Emelyanov plays the mysterious, incomprehensible young boy, that does not give much thought to the future and whose intentions regarding Daniel will be foreign to us even after the final credits roll. His exotic face makes us fully understand Daniel’s fascination, which Rabourdin plays with spartan economy, making it more real for its lack of fireworks. And yet, you may say that the same lack of fireworks at story level is what stops Eastern Boys of being a stronger film. The changes of tone towards the narrative, marked by its chapters – from the almost documentary style beginning, to the surrealism of the party at Daniel’s place, to the visually moody middle and the social realist ending – make us feel we’re watching several films instead of one, and unfortunately the one we end up in is not the best of the four.
But still, somehow, in the middle of the silence and the empty walls, there’s a spark of genius that makes us wonder what Campillo, mostly known as a writer, will be able to deliver in the next few years. For that spark, I guess, we’ll keep on coming back.
Eastern Boys is showing as part of My French Film Festival (Jan 16- Feb 16), an online film festival. All the films can be accessed here.
*Venice Horizons Award, Venice Film Festival 2013
**Best International Feature, Santa Barbara International Film Festival 2014