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artisanal film reviews | by maryann johanson

Eastern Boys movie review: pretty boy

Eastern Boys red light

Repugnant drama about the tender relationship between a man who pays for sex and the boy he hires. At least Pretty Woman pretended to be a fairy tale.
I’m “biast” (pro): nothing (at least before the film started and I realized what it was about)

I’m “biast” (con): nothing

(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)

I have no sympathy for men who pay for sex. I have even less sympathy for men who delude themselves into thinking that the people they are paying for sex actually enjoy it and want to be letting the man paying do what he’s doing. (We can test that! Let’s level the playing field and ensure that everyone can make a decent living without having to accept money from strangers in exchange for access to their bodies. And then we’ll see just how many women and boys truly enjoy sucking your hairy balls, you creeps.)

Eastern Boys is all about a man who pays for sex, the looks-underage teen he pays for sex, and the tender relationship that develops between them. It is a story that, if it has any hope of working as a story, demands that we have sympathy for the former and accept that the latter is authentically won over by him. And then it goes out of its way to make that really, really difficult, even if, like me, you start out scoffing at the likelihood of the premise.

Here we have Daniel (Olivier Rabourdin: Grace of Monaco, Taken 2), a well-off professional middle-aged Parisian man. He’s not unattractive, and clearly he has money. It seems unlikely that he would need to pay anyone for sex if he’s just looking to get his rocks off. Yet here he is, cruising the Eastern European boys hanging out around the train station Gare du Nord. Already I have little regard for him. Then he picks up Marek (Kirill Emelyanov), who, if he isn’t underage — we learn later that he isn’t — at least looks it, and Daniel has obviously chosen him for his youthful teen freshness. Okay, so maybe Daniel likes boys so young that nonpaying scenarios would get him into trouble. (Cuz, you know, paying for sex hardly ever gets the buyer in trouble, does it?)

This is not helping with whatever sympathy we’re supposed to have for Daniel.

Daniel arranges for Marek to come by his apartment the next evening. Yet when the knock on the door comes, it’s not Marek but one of his friends, who is unquestionably underage. (Marek could well be 17 or 18, and is probably a little older. This kid is no more than 13 or 14, and could even be younger.) It’s plain than Daniel has been set up for something extremely uncool. So what does Daniel do? He lets the kid in. Why? Is he hoping that Marek is on his way and he’s still going to get laid? I mean, whoa: Marek had told Daniel that he does “everything” — or, in other words, anything — for 50 euros. Bargain!

This is some Olympic-level Thinking With Your Dick. And Daniel is only getting warmed up.

I’ll give writer-director Robin Campillo this: What happens as that scene that starts off with the arrival of Marek’s friend continues is like nothing I have ever seen before onscreen, and — before I knew where the film was going — I thought, Yes, this is what Daniel deserves. This is the smack upside the head a man who thinks it’s okay to pay a vulnerable undocumented teen for sex is desperately asking for.

But Daniel refuses to accept that what happens — it’s pretty much the ugliest ever meet-ugly — could be a deterrent to having sex with Marek. And, you know, Marek is so wretched that you can hardly blame him for continuing to take money from a guy who wants to give him money. But then Eastern Boys descends into the morally repugnant and repulsive when it becomes something of a preposterous fairy tale in which, it turns out, being a vulnerable undocumented immigrant teen getting fucked by much older men for money turns out to be a good thing for Marek. Not that there’s any feeling of the fairy tale about this; it’s meant to be a socially aware drama, and it remains fixed in reality. Except when it pretends that Marek would come to have kindhearted feelings for Daniel instead of just hanging around to milk the older man for whatever he can get. (I’d like to think that that’s what’s happening and that a year or two after the film ends, Daniel finds his bank account cleared out, but there’s no suggestion whatsoever that this is in the offing.)

You know, Pretty Woman at least had a veneer — however absurd — of fantasy. Eastern Boys is actually worse, because it wants you to accept it as grounded and genuine. Ugh.


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Eastern Boys (2014)
US/Can release: Feb 27 2015
UK/Ire release: Dec 05 2014

MPAA: not rated
BBFC: rated 15 (strong language, sex)

viewed at a private screening with an audience of critics

IMDb
more reviews: Movie Review Query Engine | Rotten Tomatoes

If you’re tempted to post a comment that resembles anything on the film review comment bingo card, you might want to reconsider.

  • Constable

    This sounds like a really porno, the kind that warrants police attention. Just so I’m clear, the pedophile, sex trade patron, older man is meant to be the sympathetic one? What were the writers trying to do? I’d have watched it if it were about Marek robbing the old perv blind, why not write it like that? The reason why Tyrion Lannister is a likable anti-hero is because, among other things, he refuses to force himself on Sansa (as any decent human would) and tries to get Shae out of the city away from HIM. Even then, he’s still an anti-hero. I worry about the minds behind this, shouldn’t they be… asked a few direct questions by a psychologist?

  • The film is not pornographic.

  • Constable

    I didn’t mean visually, just that the story sounds about as off putting.

  • BrianJKelly

    I know people who have enjoyed sex work, and have become legitimate friends with former (or current) clients. I’d still love to have that level-playing-field test, tho, just for all of its other benefits. =)

  • Constable

    Rape victims can sometimes begin to identify with the rapist. This is not enjoyment, it’s emotional damage. I don’t see how anyone could enjoy a line of work that involves such risk at such little gain.

  • It’s a stretch to call all sex work “rape.”

  • LaSargenta

    More than a stretch…

  • Constable

    Is it not also a stretch to imply that anyone would be a prostitute as anything but a last resort?

  • LaSargenta

    Have you ever come across the book Tricks and Treats:Sex Workers Write About their Clients, ed. Matt Bernstein Sycamore? Several essays, lots of perspectives — including on what exactly constitutes sex work. Always a good idea to actually listen to people before making assumptions.

  • I didn’t say that that’s true of everyone. But I suspect it is true for the vast majority of those who are hustling on the streets for 50 euros a pop.

  • Mick

    Its really easy to watch a film like this and come away with a disdain for the characters and the film makers. Whats harder is to think about the real world societal pressures that not only produced the film itself, but the situations in it.

    Different attitude to immigration+real social welfare and help=Rouslan not being at the station.

    I think it says a lot that you find the relationship that develops between the two leads more unbelievable and shocking than say, how the police behave towards the immigrants.

    This Film is incredibly well put together and worth watching.

  • Danielm80

    “A movie is not about what it is about. It is about how it is about it.” –Roger Ebert

  • In what way did I suggest that I found the relationship between the two leads as “unbelievable and shocking”?

  • Ben

    this just is not a review of the film – its an analysis of the main character’s morality. your didactic style is boring and backwards. so many films’ protagonists have sympathetic characters who’s (a)morality come into question. also you’re wrong about the film tricking itself into believing in its own fantasy. if you pay attention at the end, Daniel instigates a desexualisation of the relationship as he knows it is one-sided. Marek keeps on coming and staying because of the money and also because of the attention. its a film that looks deeper into social issues than into sexuality, and in the end daniel’s heart definitely rules over his cock as he goes out of his way to save marek and i dont think he expects a blow job when its all done.

  • David

    From the review, it’s apparent that the reviewer only watched the first 15 or 20 minutes of the film. She needs to watch the whole thing, and then apologize for phoning in her “work.”

  • Actually, I don’t watch the films at all. I contract out my reviews to a content farm in Indonesia. So much quicker and easier that way!

  • JanCosgrove1945

    What can one believe could happen? Is it possible that a man who cruises young vulnerable guys for sex might get more than he bargained for? Yes, I’m sure we can hack that idea, queer-rolling is also a fact of life. Is it possible that the boy, Marek, might, for whatever reason (and it isn’t made explicit at all) would go back? Well, all sorts of things happen in real life. Maybe he sees a way to make money or, in this case, an instinct that there is ‘something else’ on offer/possible/desirable? In his situation, Marek might just clutch at an unlikely straw. So it appears to turn out – maybe it is possible that the man begins to see something else in the kid.

    Not likely? Hmmm, you may be right ….. mostly. But this isn’t about “mostly” it’s about individual people. Always in the background, the State – you know that institution which was happy to allow boys at Kincora to be fucked by people the State wanted to control/use. In the end, we see the real violence and abuse in the raid – man and boy don’t mainly need to flee ‘the boss’ (the group leader) but the State which busts in heavy-mob style. Yes, the man called them but they do it all the time.

    Here are the people trying every which way to smuggle into Britain at this time, the “swarm” as PM Cameron calls it. And if they get here, used as illegal labour by British bosses, under minimum wage, exploited, beaten, used, even murdered (but using other illegals to do the dirty work). Raids around my area by immigration, maybe the market gardening set ups supplying salad veg to the supermarkets.

    If, and it is if, a man like Daniel were to ‘adopt’ a kid like Marek and keep him safe, no more trade sex, stings, violence – remember Marek’s history and such kids do exist and live in our cities in Europe – would you ‘disdain’ the denoument? Ah, yes, the State rounds the rest up – surely, some argue, the best thing for all of them, or is that ‘us’? Daniel causes that, he seeks to protect Marek. Not only from the State but from the ‘boss’, another kid – does the ‘boss’ have unresolved feelings for Marek to cause him to act as he does towards him.

    What might someone like Daniel do, really? Leave the kid all trussed up and likely to suffer who knows what fate at the ‘boss’ hands? Or seek to rescue him? Most likely, you might say, the former. But in this version, he calls the police – why? To punish the others holding Marek captive or to enable him to have a chance to get away with the kid? It seems we’re asked to believe the latter, a panic response to a situation he got himself into. The others all get taken off bar the ‘boss’. See his despair at the end, as vulnerable as the boy he sought to ….. punish? take away? deny the man? is no longer in his power. I found that very chilling, desperately sad. The others? Held, deported, back on the streets again later, minus one of them? Heading for Calais?

    That is not a likely story. Nor are many screen scenarios which have even a sort of happy ending. In this one, we do? Happy the kid is not dead/discarded? You say you’d be happy to see Marek clean Daniel out, but there is a scene which suggests Daniel has changed what he wants and Marek also wants that changed situation. Do they never have sordid sex again? Daddy Daniel? Who knows, we are left where we are, and the suggestion, only maybe, is that, in this version, they have a chance. Given we cannot blame Daniel for the situation in which we first find Marek, what would you want of the two alternatives – he joins the others on the street (or is murdered), or, happy ending-ish, he settles with Daniel?

    Tough one. I work with real English kids in an ordinary UK town. I can’t say there aren’t boys or girls in such age-different relationships. I do know that some of the kids have pretty shite lives, 2 parents and all, so would I say it couldn’t happen? Don’t tell me they should go off with kids of their own age – yes, no doubt – but they are seeking/ NEED something else.

    We have in this area a man who worked for British Intel, knows what happened to boys at the Kincora Children’s home, traded across the sea to London as well, entrapping people for the State, also servicing the elite’s tastes – a man framed for murder now known not to have committed any such thing (but, oh yes, there was a body ….). A State within the State plotting even to overthrow by force, in the 1970s, the elected UK Government (Wilson). Something so incredible, you might say it was far-fetched for a thriller film.

    Off-putting, the film story? Yes, I know some real stories that are at least as. Real life? This film’s premise is possible, and likely to have happened in some like form. I’d worry more about the implications of Kincora, Elm House and other venues where the script, based on what happened, has yet to be written. We need to ensure it is, or none of us are safe.

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