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By Daniel Lammin
6th July 2015

As homosexuality slowly (very slowly) becomes an accepted part of the public consciousness, storytellers have started to use gay relationships to explore more complex social and political ideas. This is certainly the case with Robin Campillo’s ‘Eastern Boys’. Through the lens of a building relationship, it also attempts to weigh in on a complex issue facing Europe in the wake of internal war and conflict.

Businessman Daniel (Olivier Rabourdin) becomes embroiled in the affairs of a group of young illegal Eastern European immigrants when he tries to solicit one of them, a young man named Marek (Kirill Emelyanov). After the surreal and unexpected encounter, Marek returns and begins to seek solace in Daniel, and as their sexual relationship transforms into something more profound, Daniel decides to help Marel free himself from the gang and the influence of hooligan Boss (Daniil Vorobyov) and help him build a life for himself in France.

I’ve never made light of my dislike for recent French cinema, but ‘Eastern Boys’ was a nice surprise, a handsomely made and heartfelt film that, while far from perfect, still managed to pack a punch. Divided into a series of chapters centred around different locations (the opening chapter in particular is a terrific piece of filmmaking), the film allows itself the time to let Daniel and Marek’s relationship develop naturally, so that the shift makes perfect sense. Both Daniel and Marek are lost souls apparently content in their purgatory (Daniel keeps photos of old lovers on his mirror, Marek gives up his papers to Boss’ keeping), but when they encounter one another they strip bare that loneliness and find tremendous solace in one another. Olivier Rabourdin and Kirill Emelyanov are both wonderful and have a surprising amount of chemistry. Their relationship, beautifully shot and subtlety plotted, is the heart of the film.


Where it begins to falter is in handling the social issues thrown into the mix. It is a nice relief that homosexuality and homophobia aren’t really issues in the film, the focus instead being on illegal immigration. In the final chapter, the narrative moves to focus on Boss and his gang, and while this is interesting, it doesn’t have the same impact as the central relationship. Daniil Vorobyov’s performance as Boss betrays that irritating French tendency to construct two-dimensional villains with no moral compass, who dish out open and threatening violence without consideration. Towards the end of the film, Campillo choses to focus on Boss’ plight rather than Daniel or Marek’s, seemingly asking us to care about him, but it’s hard to have sympathy for such a wantonly childish thug. The other problem is that, though the film addresses illegal immigration, it says almost nothing about it. It’s a pity that, for all its great work, the film still falls into that trap of French film of pointing out an issue but having nothing to say about it.

That said, ‘Eastern Boys’ has far more going for it than against it. I think there’s an ideal that queer cinema is aiming for, and that’s the point where homosexuality and gender become ordinary and normal. Robin Campillo’s film seems like a step in exactly that direction. The craft is very much there, and the two central performances are gorgeous, so that while ‘Eastern Boys’ is not an overly memorable film, it makes its impact in the watching of it.

Madman have released the film on DVD only as part of the Palace Film Collection. The standard definition 2.35:1 transfer is certainly adequate, with good detail and vibrant colours, an important part of the visual storytelling of the film. The Dolby Digital 5.1 track is at times a tad problematic. The film slips between French, English and Russian, but the English is occasionally hard to make out. Thankfully the visual storytelling is string enough to make up for that.

Apart from a theatrical trailer, there are no other features included on this disc.

RELEASE DATE: 08/07/2015
RUN TIME: 2h 8m
CAST: Olivier Rabourdin
Kirill Emelyanov
Daniil Vorobyel
PRODUCERS: Hugues Charbonneau
Marie-Ange Luciani
SCORE: Arnaud Rebotini
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