The eastern boys of French-Moroccan director Robin Campillo’s beautifully acted new film are a gang of undocumented East Europeans headed by a gorgeous, cruel Boss (Danil Vorobyev).
They live together in a shabby suburban hotel and go into Paris each day to earn or con the money to survive. The most sensitive and intriguing of the boys, Marek (Kirill Emelyanov), is Ukrainian and delicate, aloof. Daniel (Olivier Rabourdin), a bourgeois Parisian, cruises Marek at a train station and invites him back to his swank, modern flat. In doing so, Daniel accidentally involves himself in the gang’s messy violence.
Later, Marek lets the older man fuck his limp, languid body for money; the two fall into a strange, unnerving relationship; lonely Daniel tries both to date and to parent the foreigner in his bed, while Marek, hoping for a way out of the legal limbo and poverty of undocumented immigration, becomes unexpectedly tender — or maybe he’s only desperate. There’s little talk in this film riddled with need. While the characters speak French, Russian, Ukrainian, and some English, large swaths are taken up by silence, suggesting what’s most urgent is that which is unsaid, untranslatable, and sometimes unspeakable. Taut, vulnerable, beautiful bodies crash together and bruise.
The Paris of Eastern Boys is all light and air — not Versailles’ Hall of Mirrors, but a transparency that suffocates, the clear-edged purity of a cloudless day and a sense in your bones that rain is coming. There has been so much shouting about French immigration, fear of the foreign, violence and the right to a home. What a relief to watch this small, expert film — a pane of glass in a concrete wall — that whispers, that dares to stand still and witness ordinary human pain.