While right-wing political parties seem to be gathering more momentum and power across Europe, with UKIP gaining their first parliamentary seat in Britain and the National Front in France taking two senate seats themselves, it seems as pertinent a time as ever for Robin Campillo’s drama Eastern Boys to be released, as a picture that studiously explores immigration. Though for the French filmmaker – presenting only his sophomore endeavour, he wanted to depict an honest set of events, neither ridiculing nor romanticising over his Eastern European characters.
“In France the Eastern right wing is so strong that we are so afraid as artists to talk about the reality of immigrants, and we have to show them to be angels. For me it’s not fair, even for them,” he said. “I took a risk because I wanted to express the characters who look threatening but you get attached to them in a way, because they’re not in an easy situation themselves. For me it was important that the audience’s sentiments about them change and evolve a lot, and for ‘boss’ (played by Daniil Vorobyov), he’s the most important character in the film. He’s a central figure, even if he’s not in the film for an hour in the middle, but he’s the key. I didn’t want him to be a hooligan, I wanted him to be like Peter Pan. A sorcerer, charming and frightening at the same time.”
Campillo is predominantly renowned for his writing, co-creating Palme d’Or winner The Class back in 2008, also penned the screenplay for Eastern Boys, and admitted that the premise – which is that of a lonely, single gay man (Olivier Rabourdin) falling in love with a young, immigrant prostitute (Kirii Emelyanov) – is based on a real life situation.
“A friend of a friend eventually adopted his former boyfriend, and when I heard of that it surprised me, how is that possible? How can I find a way in a film to express what kind of metamorphoses in love can lead these two people to another kind of relationship? I was also inspired by a former script I abandoned, because that had a character that was charming and threatening at the same time, which inspired the character ‘boss’ in my film. So it was a mix of these two stories that created the script.”
However since the film was shot, Campillo has been discovered new material, frustrating the director that it’s too late to implement his new inspirations. “I’m sad because I met a guy whose boyfriend is Chechen and because he doesn’t speak French, they invented a language together, with some Chechen Russian words, French words and English words, and I thought, oh, if I knew that before… Too bad. It happens, reality is inspiring.”
There has been a gap of 10 years between Eastern Boys and Campillo’s preceding feature The Returned, but he explains why there was such a long wait – but reassures us there won’t be another decade to wait for his next project.
“Partly it’s because I’m very lazy. It was ten years since my last film and I started to write a script for two years and at the end I realised I didn’t want to shoot it, it was too weak I thought. It’s so much money to make a film you have to be sure. It took me time to get into another project and to be sure of something I really wanted to shoot.”
“But now I’m writing two projects. My producer won’t let me wait another 10 years. I want to do a new fantasy film and then a film about the ‘Act Up’ group in Paris, against AIDs.”
Campillo is evidently a director keen on exploring big, political themes, though given the dominant themes of illegal immigration and prostitution in this title, he admitted that the picture – which has been touring the festival circuit for over a year – has received very different reactions in different countries. “I took the film to Georgia, which was interesting, and aside from one man, it was a friendly reception,” he explained. “I took it to Sweden and people were shocked by the prostitution, thinking I was romancing it. For me it’s not a film about prostitution. There’s just one character, Marek, who decides to prostitute himself to get out of his group and escape.”
When asked how he believes the film will go down in England, he joked. “The English love prostitution [laughs]. But no, seriously, you guys are definitely less judgemental.”