It becomes apparent with a mere matter of moments that Robin Campillo’s sophomore feature film is a bold and unique piece of cinema. Beginning at the Gare du Nord, our camera lingers voyeuristically from above, peering down beneath us at the hoards of people, but in particular, the group of juveniles suspiciously roaming around. Their elusive intentions are matched only by this filmmaker’s approach, as when our protagonist, Daniel (Olivier Rabourdin) asks one of the youngsters, Marek (Kirill Emelyanov) for sex – we think we’ve got it sussed, but we’re not even close.

Marek is one of many illegal immigrants populating the area, and while both the viewer, and Daniel, believe him to be a prostitute, when he arrives at his supposed clients home the following day, he is not alone. Sending in an underage friend to blackmail Daniel, the middle aged man finds himself a victim in his own house, as an array of the Eastern Europeans let themselves in, to then leave with all of his most precious, valuable possessions. Left with nothing, Daniel is then frequently visited by Marek, as the pair strike up an intensely sensual, and yet somewhat paternal bond, all behind the back of the latter’s boss (Daniil Vorobyov).

The distinct ambiguity from the opening stages extends throughout this memorable piece, as we know so little about our two protagonists. It’s an effective technique implemented by Campillo, as we know as much about both Daniel and Marek as they do about one another – which is ultimately nothing at all. Campillo enriches this notion by only showing us the pair together. Daniel casually remarks that Marek is visiting on two or three occasions a week, and that’s all we ever see – what happens during the rest of the time is left to our imagination. The sense of mystery that lingers over this production is also aided by the fact Campillo doesn’t subtitle the Eastern European’s dialogue, putting us in the same shoes as Daniel – equally as unaware, equally as anxious.

The director ensures that there are no palpable villains to this piece though, as while ‘boss’ is certainly the leading antagonist, even he remains an empathetic character, which is of real commendation considering we only ever seen him abuse and intimidate weaker-minded associates. Yet we know of their history, in a broad sense, and appreciate that they were victims in their homeland, and are seeking a new life, and while getting involved in dark, dangerous situations, you still want them to come out unscathed, and discover a new, safer path in life.

Eastern Boys, while a romantic tale at its core, is a disquieting production, all stemming from the opening sequences. When Daniel has intruders in his house it makes for uncomfortable cinema, with home being the one place we feel most safe, and the filmmaker betrays that trust, forming a suspense that is never once lifted. This subtle piece, which survives prominently in the subtext, concludes much like it begins, with a compelling final act. However, and in spite of the engrossing beginning, and riveting finale – it’s everything else in between which leaves a lot to be desired.