In the first edition of a new monthly service to Tootlafrance readers and in conjunction with Volta.ie, Conor Power reviews remastered classic Plein Soleil and newly-released César award hopeful Eastern Boys
Director: Robin Campillo
When the nominations for Best Film in this year’s César Awards were made last week, there was little surprise at the inclusion of Robin Campillo’s film about a young Ukranian male prostitute and a middle-aged Parisian.
It’s the 52-year-old Moroccan-born director’s second feature film as director. His first was 10 years ago with the zombie story The Returned, which has since been made as a Canal+ TV series of the same name (and seen on Irish screens via Channel 4). But Campillo has been very active every since – mostly as a writer and it was he who provided the screenplay for the stunning documentary-style schoolroom drama The Class (Entre les Murs) in 2008.
His latest release deals with a very different subject matter and it’s a story that had, according to Campillo, been germinating in his mind for a number of years before being brought to life in cinematic form. Opening with a panning shot of the sun-kissed façade of Gare du Nord in Paris, there follows a highly intriguing 10-minute sequence with virtually no dialogue, during which we’re introduced to a disparate gang of Eastern European youths who prowl the huge railway station, eking out a living of sorts through nefarious activities.
Led by a modern-day Fagin character in the shape of a twenty-something Russian known simply as “Boss”, the outward jolliness of the family structure of Boss’ gang belies activities such as theft and prostitution.
One of their number – a Ukranian youth named Marek – is clearly working as a male prostitute and it isn’t long before middle-aged Daniel zooms in on the gang and on Marek in particular. The approach is made and it is arranged for Marek to come around to Daniel’s apartment for sex the following day.
It becomes quickly apparent, however, that Daniel has invited a world of trouble into his petit bourgeois life – an unwitting accomplice to a situation that he never planned, as the rest of the gang of merry lost boys turn up at his door, sans Marek.
“It was you who sought us out at the station,” Boss reminds the hapless Daniel as they proceed to empty his apartment of its entire contents before his eyes in a high-spirited atmosphere of drinking and dancing to techno music.
Thereafter follows an improbable relationship between Daniel and the young Ukranian, who initially wants to make amends for his friends’ behaviour by fulfilling his original deal.
As the movie progresses, we learn a lot more about Marek’s past and of the particular bind that he is in, having escaped a war-torn home only to be taken under the wing of a bullying patriarch who doesn’t have Marek’s best interests to heart.
Meanwhile, the peculiar relationship between Daniel and Marek continues to develop and mutate, posing a lot of questions on the nature of prostitution, interdependency and trust.
Campillo’s film is neatly structured into four “paragraphs” and while at just over 2 hours long, it might have been told in less time, the rhythm is even and haunting throughout and he elicits some extraordinary performances from his largely unknown cast. Daniil Vorobyov bristles with steely-eyed menace as Boss, while Kirill Emlyanov naturally shines in the role of Marek. Olivier Rabourdin (who has appeared in the Taken series, as well as Of Gods and Men and Midnight in Paris) plays the part of Daniel with understated perfection and the supporting cast of non-actors creates a very natural and convincing backdrop of believable sans-papiers.
Eastern Boys is not a film that invites any particular categorisation: It’s not exactly a love story and it’s not exactly a story of immigration, exploitation or prostitution either. It’s a story that occupies the in-between spaces of modern-day life – the spaces in which very different stories happen to people who want to leave their true stories behind. It’s a very modern story and a thought-provoking film told on an intimate level with a steady hand and a sympathetic ear.
Director: René Clément
For those who may not be aware of it (and I wasn’t), Anthony Minghella’s 2004 film The Talented Mr Ripley is actually a remake of this fine film – superbly restored in crisp colour from its 1960 original. Or, if you like, this movie is an earlier adaptation of the novel The Talented Mr Ripley by the late talented American writer Patricia Highsmith. Highsmith was apparently very pleased with this particular version and she praised the choice of Alain Delon as being the “ideal Ripley”.
To put the film in cultural/historical context, this was the era of the so-called Nouvelle Vague: a time when a culturally oppressed American cinematic stable was churning out a lot of dead meat and when the world looked to the French screens for a lead in how to approach the art of cinema afresh.
René Clément’s movie is certainly a visual treat and it’s not to be taken as an example of the edgier blade of what the French New Wave represented, but it still has plenty of avant-garde elements in its presentation of the story to warrant a look-in.
A very youthful Alain Delon (the National Front supporter was 24 at the time of filming) plays the role of Tom Ripley with plenty of duplicitous ease, moving effortlessly through each scene as he gradually falls out with his rich friend Philip Greenleaf (who’s far more of a cad in this version than the character played by Jude Law in the English-language version) and ends up assuming his identity.
Tom has been asked by Philip’s father to get his playboy son to come home to America. In return, Greenleaf senior has promised to pay Ripley $5,000. But Philip has no intention of departing his idyllic set-up in Italy and when his father cuts him off, Tom Ripley is faced with a desperate situation that leads to desperate behaviour…
The locations of Rome, Naples and the Amalfi coastline are captured with a dreamlike beauty and the main protagonists (Delon, Marie Laforêt and the late Maurice Ronet) play their parts very well.
The pace of this film seems decidedly slower than the English-language copy but it’s all the better for it, taking time for each setting to really soak into the skin of the narrative and the denouement at the end (which Highsmith did not like) works decidedly better than Minghella’s version, leaving the audience satisfied but with a lingering creepy feeling.
Volta is Ireland’s online video rental shop with a huge range of great French films, many of them available exclusively to Irish viewers. Click here to see what you’re missing.