Beyond The Walls: believing in life after absence
by Domenico Laporta
20/05/2012 - When you ask David Lambert about the intention behind his first film, recently selected for the Critics' Week at the 65th Cannes Film Festival, the Belgian filmmaker simply replies that he wanted to remake The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, telling the tale of the disenchanted reunion of two lovers, who were passionately in love before a terrible event separated them. The screenplay of Beyond the Walls [trailer, film focus] follows these three phases - love, absence, reunion - in the lives of Paulo and Ilir, respectively played by Matila Malliarakis and a rising star in French cinema, the excellent Guillaume Gouix (Jimmy Rivière [trailer], Nobody Else But You [trailer]) whose phosphorescent charisma persists on screen even after the projector has been turned off.
Paulo is a young pianist who meets Ilir, an Albanian bass player. It's love at first sight for both men. From one day to the next, Paulo leaves his fiancée to move in with Ilir. On the day that they promise to love each other for the rest of their lives, Ilir leaves town and doesn't return. Beyond the Walls is, in a way, a disillusioned report from a generation who has been promised that love changes the world, but who often has to decide to give it up, simply because it's too difficult being two. The issues at stake in this story are coiled up in the intimacy of a couple, at the antipodes of hedonism, but they are still universal and have nothing to do with homosexuality, which is decidedly not the theme of the film. The film could suffer from an arbitrary categorisation by an audience with little ambition, but this would be missing a one-off meeting with characters whose story immediately feels like it is very personal and precious to its author. In fact, Beyond the Walls prolongs the emotions and wounds related in the director's short film Vivre Encore un Peu..., for which he garnered attention at several international festivals in 2010.
Here is a first film with a very intelligent understanding of mise-en-scene, complemented by the dense photography of Matthieu Poirot-Delpech (With a Friend Like Harry...) and, especially, very tight editing that gives the film, at times, a very fresh elliptic rhythm. David Lambert trusts in the spectator to understand both the more obvious (what happens inside the walls, what is boiling in Ilir's wet eyes when the story ends) and the less essential (music which, at the beginning, is the interest that the two characters have in common), and he keeps these moments few to better focus on the sequences of emotion, whether the euphoria of love (a very beautiful scene of the two lovers arm wrestling), the break-up (during the visiting room scenes), or the uninhibited humour of a situation involving an unusual object bought in a sex shop, but which symbolises so many things for Paulo (sex, alienation, the impossibility of going forward without relief). Believing in life after absence shouldn't be any less profound than believing in life after death, as both are equally traumatising events in the journey of a human being. How to survive our youth's love affairs and separations is a question that Charles Trenet already posed back in 1942, and that was then central to Jacques Demy's film in 1964. David Lambert now brings it back, and each spectator who sees his film will ask: What remains of our first loves?
Beyond the Walls is a co-production between Belgium (Frakas Productions), France, and Canada, and should be out in cinemas from June 2012.
(Translated from French)