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Daddy issues in a volatile world

Robin Campillo reflects on Eastern Boys.

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With his latest film BPM a critical and commercial success, I caught up with filmmaker Robin Campillo to look back at his earlier film Eastern Boys, which has recently been re-released.

It’s an intense and seductive film, with authentic and unpredictable characters.

Set in Paris, Eastern Boys gives us the story of Daniel solicits Marek - one of the young Eastern European boys that hangs around the Gare du Nord. Daniel gives Marek his home address, but when the doorbell rings and it isn’t Marek standing there, Daniel realises he’s fallen into a trap.

What was your inspiration for Eastern Boys?

I went for dinner at the home of a friend of a friend. This guy had recently returned to Paris from Russia. He was about 55-years-old, living with his son. While we were there, the son left to go out to a party and said goodbye to his father. The dynamic between the two of them confused me a little, and my friend told me afterwards that the man and the boy had been lovers in Russia, but that now he had adopted him as his son.
I found this surprising and interesting. I wanted to try and understand how it was possible to go from a sexual relationship to a father and son relationship. I wanted to write a story that explored that.

At the same time, I also wanted to write about immigration, and how people from Eastern Europe were coming to France and being seen as threatening.

The relationship between Daniel and Marek is a complicated one. How did you reconcile the evolution of their relationship?

The heart of every relationship is a bit unknown. After you’ve been with the same person for a period of time, your relationship changes, it evolves, it goes to another level. For example, some people in a relationship don’t have sex anymore. It’s not something that we ever really talk about.

The story in this film is an extreme example of the mutation of a relationship.

What was the casting process for Eastern Boys? Olivier Rabourdin was obviously already an established actor, but the rest of the cast seemed to be relatively unknown?

I spent nine months on casting the film. I really wanted to cast Russian guys, so I was looking at Russian films and searching for Russian actors. But, it was very difficult - particularly because I don’t know the language and can’t read their alphabet.

Eventually, I found Daniil Vorobyov. He’d been working in low-quality films, but he was such a great actor. At first I thought he might play the role of Marek, but he wasn’t quite young enough for that. During the casting process, he read for the role of the Boss and it was perfect - he brought so much to that character that we evolved the character and gave him more depth.

I eventually found Kirill Emelyanov for the role of Marek. He comes from a family of actors, he’s been acting since he was five. He was so clever and so authentic that it was as if he wasn’t acting.

Daniil and Kirill came to Paris six months before filming started, and it was great to be able to spend time with them and see how they really embodied these roles.

Eastern Boys explored some of the facets of the immigration and migration experience in France. The tensions of that experience have heightened since that time - would Eastern Boys be a different story if you told it today?

I wouldn’t change the story - the situation is the same, but getting worse.

French society is becoming more and more closed. We’re so afraid of everything, the risk of others. We pretend that people coming to this country don’t belong, but that’s not the reality. The law is being used as a weapon.

In the film there are two moments where the law is used as a dirty weapon. First, when Daniel’s home is invaded, the boss uses the threat of paedophilia to prevent Daniel from calling the police. And at the end of the film, Daniel uses the immigration rules to get the boss and his gang arrested as undocumented immigrants, so that he can save his lover.

We spend so much energy trying to protect ourselves and our country, but we don’t realise that immigration is becoming more and more important - we have to address that. I want to continue to explore the issue, and how our history is shaping what’s happening today.

Were you pleased with how Eastern Boys was received? Did the audience understand the story that you were telling?

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I did a lot of Q&A sessions at screenings of the film. What people seemed to respond to was that it put the audience in a situation where the moral standpoints weren’t obvious. The subject of the film, the behaviour of the characters, the age of the teenagers - it’s complex.

The experience of migrants is also complex. Often we feel obliged to talk about migrants in a positive way, but sometimes the countries they’ve come from and the experiences that they’ve had, that does something to them. There’s almost a metamorphosis in these characters.

BPM has been incredibly well-received. Could you have made BPM without having the success of Eastern Boys behind you?

Eastern Boys was a subject that was very important to me, but I was so afraid of everything - the character of Daniel was a bit like me.

What that film taught me was to not be afraid of anything, to jump into the unknown.

Working with my cinematographer - Jeanne Lapoirie, who I also worked with on BPM - we learnt how to work quickly, to get a scene set up and to start shooting, to capture the energy of those early moments and not worry too much about all of the detail.

It’s made me more free as a director, to let the film breathe.

Eastern Boys is distributed by Peccadillo Pictures

Read more from Gareth Johnson

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Arts & Culture

Hoxton Street

London. Life.

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Image supplied

“How did it go with your family?” asked Sandra, handing Kellen a mug of tea. “Did she like the earrings?”

“Yes – total winner!” nodded Kellen. “We had the birthday drinks at a new cocktail bar in town. I had a Joe Calzaghe – delicious. It was a good couple of days, although we had to work hard not to talk about politics.”

“You watched the no-confidence vote?” asked Sandra.

“Obviously…” confirmed Kellen. “But, you know how Wales voted for Leave.”

“Don’t tell me that your family voted to Leave!” gasped Sandra.

“We’ve adopted a don’t-ask-don’t-tell policy on it…” explained Kellen. “We had to agree a safe-word. Anytime that Brexit started to rear its head in a conversation, shouting out – Gaga! – meant that we had to change the subject and talk about something else.”

“Why is your safe-word always Gaga!” laughed Sandra. “You’re so gay!”

“I’m going to take that as a compliment…” dismissed Kellen.

“Anyway, you’re lucky that you weren’t run over by Prince Philip!” said Sandra. “That was out your way, wasn’t it?”

“You do realise that Sandringham is not in Wales…” replied Kellen. “In fact, it’s pretty much the opposite side of the country to where I was.”

“Is it?” asked Sandra. “Are you sure? I kind of thought it was all in the same general direction. To be honest, anything beyond the M25 is a bit of a mystery to me. In my head, the UK is pretty much made up of London and then there’s not-London.”

“I’m pretty sure this is why 52 percent of the country voted to Leave the EU…” sighed Kellen. “Just to remind everyone in London that they still exist.”

“Anyway, what is Prince Philip doing driving around in the middle of nowhere?” asked Sandra. “Doesn’t he have a driver? If I was a prince I’d definitely have a driver. Is Kate Middleton driving herself around? Is Meghan Markle driving herself around? Well, Meghan probably is, but you get my point. Prince Philip is 97 years old!”

“I guess he just wanted to be a bit independent…” shrugged Kellen. “But this probably will put an end to his driving days. What are your plans for the weekend? Are you seeing flower-market-guy?”

“He’s taking me away for a romantic mini-break…” grinned Sandra. “Just me and him… romantic… mini-break.”

“Shut up!” exclaimed Kellen. “That’s awesome! Where’s he taking you?”

“It’s a surprise…” replied Sandra. “Although I’m pretty sure it’s going to be Paris. I’ve never been to Paris, and I keep dropping hints about Paris, and how romantic it would be to go to Paris.”

“How have you never been to Paris?” asked Kellen.

“This morning he sent me a text, saying – Bonjour…” continued Sandra, ignoring Kellen’s question. “So, at lunchtime, I went out and bought a beret.”

“Where did you find a beret?” asked Kellen.

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“Strangely enough, they had some at Poundland…” shrugged Sandra. “I guess they’re clearing out anything that’s vaguely European.”

“I’m pretty sure that’s not how Brexit is going to work…” said Kellen. “It’s not going to become illegal to wear a beret.”

“You say that, but no one really knows for sure…” insisted Sandra. “Iceland have got packets of French Onion Soup on sale.”

“Gaga!” said Kellen firmly. “This is definitely a safe-word scenario. I call Gaga!”

This is the latest episode of the serial, Hoxton Street.

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