Every day, Watch This offers staff recommendations inspired by a new movie coming out that week. This month: The A.V. Club atones for its sins of omission, recommending the best movies of the year that we didn’t review.
The French drama Eastern Boys opens with two of the year’s most extraordinary sustained tours de force, back to back. Its opening scene, set at the Gare Du Nord railway station, wordlessly tracks the intersection of two simultaneous reconnaissance missions, as a middle-aged man named Daniel (Olivier Rabourdin) cruises for sex and a gang of teenage immigrants from various countries in Eastern Europe execute petty thefts. Eventually, Daniel zeroes in on the lanky, attractive Marek (Kirill Emelyanov), who agrees to screw Daniel for money… but only at Daniel’s apartment, the following day. Daniel’s failure to recognize this as a scam leads to the movie’s second magnificent sequence, when Marek shows up at Daniel’s place accompanied by the rest of the gang, who threaten their host and then proceed to methodically rob him of everything he owns. One of the toughs puts on some music, and the robbery turns into a rave, with Daniel ultimately resigning himself to his fate and surrendering to the beat.
Directed and co-written by Robin Campillo, whose only previous feature was 2004’s They Came Back (the loose inspiration for the French TV series The Returned and its recent U.S. remake), Eastern Boys doesn’t maintain the exhilarating blend of tension and elegance that distinguishes its initial half hour—if it did, it would be the movie of the year. But the story that follows, in which Daniel and Marek attempt to forge an odd relationship in spite of the sordid circumstances under which they met, never goes quite where one would expect it to, eventually culminating in a shift that Campillo handles with such subtlety and finesse that it takes a while to even realize what’s happening. Rabourdin’s quietly rugged screen presence resembles that of Time Out star Aurélien Recoing (who turns up in season two of The Returned, coincidentally); in a just world, he’d be a leading candidate for Best Actor awards. And while this isn’t really a film about immigration, it does raise questions—in particular, about the pros and cons of providing sanctuary to the unwanted of other nations—that have suddenly become dishearteningly timely.
Availability: Eastern Boys is available on DVD from Amazon, Netflix, or possibly your local video store/library. It’s also currently streaming on Netflix.