Mostly About Women

in 7th Krakow International Festival of Independent Cinema

by Pawel Mossakowski

As the screenings were going along at Off Plus CAMERA International Festival of Independent Cinema, itsoon became obvious that the selection for the Main Dramatic Competition “Making way” had a strong, coherent concept. Almost all the films focused on some issues of minorities in society. These films tried to show us what it is like to have conflicts with society because of identity, gender, social status, poverty or ethnic origin. These films triedto expose problems of gay couples or of gender identity, including the hitherto taboo theme of trans-surgery, or problems of disabled people, or conflicts of those who had literally been excluded from society through imprisonment.

Robin Campillo with his co-author Laurent Cantet in his film Eastern Boys presents uswith such a micro-sociological sample, where we can meet asort of “outcasts”, each belonging to different types of minorities.

The film begins with long takes of youngsters loitering around in the vast public expanses of Paris’s Gare du Nord. They are immigrants who came to the West, dreaming about a better future, but since they don’t have skills or education, they just try to live on the moment, largely by deceiving or gagging the local inhabitants.

On the opposite side there is Daniel,a middle-aged and middle-class Frenchman who is gay, and who is — driven by lust — seeking for young, male prostitutes. He also belongs to a minority group. But what a difference! He is a local native.

The first dramatic peak of the film occurs when these two distant worlds spectacularly clash. Daniel made an agreement with Marek, a young immigrant who — as he himself says — is willing “to do anything for 50 euros”. But next day, the whole gang of immigrants — from Moldavia, from Ukraine and other places — encroach on Daniel. Here the film suddenly becomes a home-invasion movie. The eastern intruders, under the pretext of holding a party, steal most of the movable items from Daniel’s flat. And what is probably more annoying for him, the strangers are besmirching his life interior. The boss of the gang constantly displays his power, intimidating Daniel and rough-riding his own pals. The film’s great merit is that Campillo could accomplish this chillingly macabre scene without falling into the trap of xenophobia. A real aesthetic paradox here is that this coldly realistic scene can also be read as a rich metaphor for the fear of the trans-subjective unconscious about the cultural invasion by the “wild east”, which could subvert the western order, tradition and the values that lend integrity and meaning to western civilization. The artistic sensitivity here lies in the director’s ability to set up the metaphor without arousing superficial political implications.

And there is another kind of symbolic representation connected to this scene, because we can observe the structure and cooperation of the eastern gang under the Russian (!) boss, who in fact keeps his fellow men under strict control and deprives them partly of their freedom by taking away their documents. So he uses and abuses others, deluding them at the same time with a false pledge of protection and giving them the illusion that they belong to a community: a model of an authoritative, byzantine power, as opposed to the democratic western model.

After this important sequence, the credibility of the representation fails a little because of the dramatic cross-connection to the next part of the film. Marek, the young Ukrainian, goes back to Daniel to offer his service for the previously agreed 50 euros. For me, the film can not really make it believable that after such a traumatic clash with the gang, the moderate and reserved Daniel would ever want to meet Marek again.

But probably that was the only way to make the movie progress further and describe the changing relationship between the immigrant prostitute and the lonely gay petit bourgeois. In the beginning, it is a business-like transaction conducted with callosity and insensibility on Marek’s part. But the ice in relationship meltsafter a while and soon it becomes rather a familial bond.

As a new twist, the possibility of escape from the gang arises for Marek.

But here, with a smart dramatic parallelism, the director shows ushow the police — as representative of power — now intrude into the immigrants’ home. The scene is actually much more brutal and hysterical than the preceding one when the immigrants invaded Daniel’s home, but the structure of the two episodes is the same. It becomes clear that the police just do their duty, they try the keep order and necessarily try to avert effects that menace normal life of society.

So it turns out that only a lucky individual can perhaps be given the opportunity to be integrated into society. The group is doomed to disband and its members are supposedly deported.

Eastern Boys is a disturbing and thrilling film about gruesome and startling problems of contemporary European community.

Edited by Birgit Beumers