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Eastern Boys

August 2, 2018

EBsI’ve been to Gare du Nord in Paris and seen the activity there.

We worry about trafficking without considering the wars we have encouraged by our arms sales, with the resulting vulnerable refugees.

A long, strange trip of a film that touches on myriad social, economic and sexual themes – trafficking, powerlessness.

Does altruism come out of lust?

They come from all over Eastern Europe: Russia, Romania, Ukraine. They are Eastern boys. The oldest appear no more than 25; as for the youngest, there is no way of telling their age, though a key player is only 14. They hang around the Gare du Nord train station in Paris. They might be prostitutes, but there is no way of knowing for certain. Muller, a discreet man in his late fifties has his eye on one of them – Marek.

Marek, a young Ukrainian immigrant in Paris, works the street in front of the Gare du Nord with his friends, other Eastern European ‘toughs’. He is approached by Daniel, a businessman in his fifties, self-consciously cruising at the station, and agrees to visit him at his home at 6pm the following day.

The next day Daniel prepares himself in his apartment. His buzzer rings and Daniel briefly gives his visitor directions up to his apartment. There is a knock at the door, but when he opens it, a fourteen-year-old boy stands outside, declaring himself to be ‘Marek’. Confused and unnerved Daniel is at a loss, as the young ‘Marek’ pushes past him into the apartment. The boy chides Daniel for inviting a minor to his home for sex, before the door knocks again, and two other Eastern European young men invite themselves in to the apartment. Before long they are joined by the rest of the gang, including ‘Boss’, the Russian leader of the hustlers’ crew. The boys disperse around Daniel’s well-appointed apartment, using the gym equipment, computer and PlayStation, helping themselves to liquor, whilst Boss casually explains to Daniel that he ‘is the one who invited us to come’. Daniel’s living room becomes a makeshift dance floor as Boss and his girlfriend and some of the youths encourage Daniel to dance with them, as the other young men strip his apartment of his belongings. The real Marek arrives as the surreal evening drifts on, adding to Daniel’s sense of violation. The volatile dynamic of the hustlers’ crew is exposed when one of the youngsters bumps into Boss whilst dancing, and he lashes out violently. Daniel wakes to a trashed and emptied apartment. Yet, as days pass his life returns to normality, as if the film’s first chapter were a kind of fever dream. Daniel’s cleaner tidies the mess left by the gang. He begins to refurbish his home, and hosts friends for dinner.

One day, as Daniel is assembling chairs, Marek comes back to the apartment – he asks if Daniel still wants to fuck him. There is a pause of uncertainty, before Daniel proposes their agreed upon price from their conversation at the station days earlier: 50 euros. They move to the bedroom, where Marek unenthusiastically lies on his side, looking away into nothing, as Daniel thrusts into him before quickly finishing. Daniel hands Marek a 50 euro note before he hurriedly leaves.

Marek returns a few days later. This time, after they undress, Daniel holds Marek in an embrace, and spends time touching Marek’s body. He brings Marek to climax, before they climb under the covers, to sleep side by side. Daniel wakes to find Marek’s side of the bed empty, but finds him in the kitchen, eating leftovers. Wordlessly, Daniel gathers some further items from the refrigerator, and they move to the dining table, to share a meal. Over the following weeks, Marek becomes a regular fixture in Daniel’s life. They have sex two or three times a week, with Daniel paying Marek 50 euros on each occasion. Daniel grows fond of Marek, in spite of himself, and begins exercising again. Grocery shopping one evening, Daniel asks Marek about his parents. Marek confides that he grew up in Chechnya, that both of his parents were casualties in the war, and reveals that his name is actually Rouslan. Daniel seems unsure as to the truth of Rouslan’s claims, and on their return to Daniel’s apartment Rouslan becomes upset. He says that he trusts Daniel, but that Daniel cannot bring himself to trust him in return.

Shortly after, Daniel suggests that Rouslan look for a job, so that he can become self-sufficient from the gang. He asks Rouslan to begin sleeping in a bed made up in the office, rather than in his own. Rouslan reluctantly complies, but has a nightmare when fireworks go off nearby. He wakes fearfully, and Daniel finds him, dazed, in the living area. Concerned for Rouslan, Daniel asks what the matter is. Rouslan breaks down, having realised that Daniel no longer has a sexual interest in him. But, holding him in an embrace, Daniel reveals that he wants Rouslan to begin a new life, one that he can help establish. He invites Rouslan to move into his spare room, and to break ties with the other immigrants.

Rouslan’s passport, along with other gang member’s papers, is held by Boss at a cheap, city-limits hotel that serves as the gang’s base. Rouslan ventures to the hotel in order to retrieve it. Although he successfully steals Boss’ key to the locker which holds the documents, he is interrupted by the hotel concierge trying to find out which locker the key opens. Boss and the other gang members subsequently muscle him back up to their floor of the hotel, where Boss assaults Rouslan, smashes his cell phone, takes his leather jacket—a gift from Daniel, and has the other boys tie him up, leaving him restrained in a private storage room.

Daniel becomes worried when he can’t reach Rouslan by his cell phone, and drives out to the hotel. When the concierge is unable to confirm Rouslan’s whereabouts, Daniel takes a room, at the concierge’s suggestion, on the second floor, where the immigrants are housed. As she escorts him to the room, they both hear a faint groaning coming from the storage room. Although the concierge brushes this off at first, when Daniel calls down to the front desk shortly after, she explains that the immigrants are managed by Social Services, and, as such, out of her jurisdiction. As Daniel becomes increasingly concerned, she suggests that they call the police, but Daniel explains that he must find another way that will not result in Rouslan being arrested and deported.

Daniel ventures back into the hotel corridor, and calls out to Rouslan at the door to the storage room. Rouslan, bound and gagged, responds with muffled cries. Realising he must act swiftly, Daniel moves his car into the underground parking lot, then uses the stair access to return to the front desk. With a sense of unspoken agreement, he and the concierge return to the second floor, where she uses her pass key to unlock the storage room. Having played her vital role, the concierge quickly returns to her work, as Daniel moves Rouslan, still tied-up, to his hotel room before the gang members can discover them.

When Boss discovers that someone has unlocked the storage room door and allowed Rouslan to escape, he accuses a junior hotel staff member, before punching him. Hearing the commotion, Daniel sees an opportunity, and calls the police to the hotel. As the concierge confronts the immigrants, Daniel uses a fire extinguisher to break into the locker and retrieve Rouslan’s papers. As police officers swarm the hotel, Daniel carries a badly beaten Rouslan via the stairwell to his waiting car in the underground carpark. Lowering Rouslan into the rear of his hatchback, he tells him not to be scared. At that moment, Boss attacks the two of them, pushing Daniel aside and pummelling Rouslan with his fists. Daniel scrambles back to his feet before launching at Boss, and choking him up against a concrete pillar. As the police round up the last of the immigrants, Daniel and Rouslan drive away to seeming safety; Boss however avoids arrest and discovers Rouslan’s apartment key in the pocket of the leather jacket. Seeing an opportunity to exact revenge, Boss travels to Daniel’s apartment, only to discover that only the shell of the rooms remain; Daniel and Rouslan have left the apartment behind.

Months later, Daniel and Rouslan sit in a court room, as a committee hear their case, as Daniel seeks to adopt Rouslan. They are told that they’ll receive a decision late in the fall. As they leave the courthouse, their solicitor encourages them to be patient; it is a routine adoption and there is no reason for the proceedings to be denied. The men walk out into the daylight, into their shared life.

The film’s first three parts — respectively titled Her Majesty, The Street; This Party I Am a Hostage Of and What We Make Together — are filled with several equally well-observed scenes in which Campillo teases out the human behaviour behind what on the surface often seem to be business transactions involving exchanges of money, goods or services.

As the film takes on the foreboding menace of the typical “home invasion” thriller, it’s hard to read the film’s political or moral stance towards Daniel. Do we read him as a predator using economically disadvantaged youth and now getting his come-uppance? Or is the film voicing the paranoia towards immigrant communities that has a long, unsavoury history in French culture, and that’s now horribly prevalent in a France in which the far-right Front National is alarmingly on the rise?

A very realistic, raw image of illegal immigrants and a very sensitive story of deception, love and protection.

“I don’t speak French. I’m sorry,” Marek replies in English, a little belligerently to his possible john. “What do you want? . . . I do everything. . . . Can we go to your house?”

“These bodies are the most important things that God has given us.”

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From → Film, Sexuality

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