Set in Paris, ‘Eastern Boys’ attempts to redefine our assumptions. It certainly eradicated my expectations. I believed this film to be about the sex trafficking of children, however, while that was mentioned the film went much further than that.
Daniel is a reasonably well-off business man, whose lover has left him for unknown reasons. The film opens with Daniel trawling a train station for a male prostitute. He meets Marek, a young man of about 17. They agree to meet the next day at Daniel’s home. But when Daniel opens the door, another boy - a child - stands there claiming to be Marek. The boy dashes into the house, threatening to scream if Daniel does anything. The boy opens the door to dozens of people, who proceed to help themselves to Daniel’s possessions, and treat his home like an impromptu rave. Daniel seems powerless to stop it. In fact, he does nothing, until eventually joining in with the dancing and drinking. He wakes the next morning to find most of his possessions have been taken.
Later, the original Marek visits and offers to hold his end of the bargain for sexual services. Marek and Daniel begin seeing each other regularly, until Daniel begins to see the relationship as something else. Daniel doesn’t realise the danger Marek risks by seeing Daniel without the permission of the gang’s boss, a dangerous, psychotic character who isn't above beating his "brothers" to within inches of their lives. Of course, Daniel gets caught up in Marek’s issues, culminating in a dangerous confrontation with the boss.
Several of the scenes were far too long, dragging on without furthering the story. The music was European electronic, which gave the film a jarring quality in places. It was, however, particularly effective when emphasising the strangeness of Daniel’s situation. Some of Daniel's behaviour seems hard to believe: he does nothing when these boys take over his home, not even trying to stop them stealing his things; he takes Marek into his bed, his home, his life, after Marek set him up at the station. The motivations of both main characters seem impossible to fathom. The most straightforward character seems to be Marek's insane boss, who simply wants power, and control over his "boys".
Most of the characters are at least bilingual, which is true to reality in Europe but for Australian audiences, and the lack of subtitles in some moments is frustrating as you feel as though you are missing important nuances of the story. The sex scenes were confronting - but not due to any explicit activity (because they were reasonably tasteful), but because of Marek's complete lack of response to Daniel's affections. Even when he comes back for more, even when it stops being a financial transaction, Marek seems to be completely detached.
Both main actors swing wildly from wooden indifference in their performance to extreme overacting. The supporting cast get little screen time, with the vast majority of the film devoted to the developing changes in the primary relationship. We do get an insight into the control, and psychological and physical abuse rife in gang culture - though again, this important aspect takes second place to this strange not-quite-a-love story.
‘Eastern Boys’ questions the nature of relationships, and the things we are willing to do for the people we care about. It’s a worthwhile film for those who would like a glimpse into an underground subset of European culture, and those students of psychology. Otherwise, it's not an film designed to entertain.