F.I.L.M. of the Week (May 4, 2017)

4 05 2017

It’s gonna be May, which means one thing for this cinephile: the Cannes Film Festival! Unfortunately, I’m not going, but the official selection titles give me plenty to watch from the comfort of my own home. Cannes confers international auteur status on plenty of up-and-coming directors who were previously flying well off my radar.

Such is the case for French director Robin Campillo, whose third film “120 Beats Per Minute” marks his competition debut. (He did have a connection to the festival through 2008’s Palme d’Or winner “The Class” – another film featured in this column – which he co-wrote with director Laurent Cantet.) “Eastern Boys” marks his most recent film, and it too earns its stripes as a “F.I.L.M. of the Week.”

Campillo’s departure point is a familiar place, or so it appears to me from my somewhat limited knowledge of global LGBT cinema. (The plot bears many similarities to Lorenzo Vigas’ 2016 feature “From Afar.”) A lonely older man, sexually repressed, seeks erotic fulfillment from a scruffy, edgy youngster furtively dabbling in the world’s oldest profession. From there, these two unlikely lovers begin a tender relationship that exposes generational differences in sexual freedom and shame.

But Campillo takes his time to arrive there in “Eastern Boys.” The relationship is teased in a masterful opening sequence where Rouslan (Kirill Emelyanov), a Ukranian immigrant living in the shadows of Paris, lurks around a metropolitan train station with a band of fellow hoodlums. The camera yo-yos between extreme wide shots painting him as just another body moving in a space and tighter angles where we get a sense of how he’s scouting his next mark. Eventually, the soft-spoken businessman Daniel (Olivier Rabourdin) tracks him down and requests his services.

Only it’s not just Rouslan who shows up – it’s his entire gang there to strip the apartment down for parts. The holdup isn’t the end of their story, though. Rouslan returns to consummate his original offer and winds up becoming a regular guest. As their bond deepens, Rouslan feels compelled to tell his host more details of his former life in eastern Europe – stories which Daniel dismisses and downplays. This information threatens to usurp his own sexual angst and reminds of him of the privilege he carries.

From there, it’s fascinating to watch how the provider-client relationship morphs into a more paternal-filial one. “Eastern Boys” loses some steam in its final act when some of Rouslan’s companions grow suspicious of some conspicuous symbols of wealth he mysteriously comes to possess, though it’s hardly enough to derail the film. The fascinating ever-shifting connection between Rouslan and Daniel, expertly conveyed by Emelyanov and Rabourdin, more than redeems any missteps.

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