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.