An official selection at Cannes, the BFI London Lesbian and Gay and Stockholm film festivals, Beyond the Walls deserves its due notice. The first feature from acclaimed shorts director and screenwriter David Lambert, the picture succeeds where any short must: pacing and character development.
The film follows Paulo (Matila Malliarakis) and Ilir (Guillaume Gouix), who quickly develop an incredibly physical and emotional relationship. The two meet after bartender Ilir takes home and cares for a drunken Paulo. Each quickly helps the other overcome a timidity that accompanied their shared sexual identity. Paulo had been in a long-term relationship with girlfriend Anka, whereas Ilir had never fully come out to his family and Albanian community. Lambert captures the associated struggle well, even warmly and comically. In a particularly funny scene, Ilir asks clerks and customers where he and Paulo might find lubricant. He does so only after Paulo shows public affection for Ilir in the latter’s neighbourhood. While the couple may have found this sexual freedom, each soon becomes imprisoned once more.
Just as Paulo and Ilir become nearly inseparable, incarceration divides them. Having been arrested for possessing class B drugs and for assaulting a police officer, Ilir finds himself dealt a one-year sentence. Paulo’s reaction is one of nothing but intensity and devotion. As the year passes, however, the two slowly drift apart. Whereas Paulo had appeared as weak, particularly in his boyish frame, he emerges as the stronger of the two. While Ilir clings to Paulo, even if only in idea, Paulo soon enters into another, more stable, even if equally as dependent, relationship.
A heart-breaking despondency characterizes the second half of this film. One could expect nothing else given the plotline. More affecting, however, is how the brutality of it haunts. Lambert captures reality all too well: he shows how an infatuation could lead to a richly rewarding or painfully troubling relationship. Moreover, Lambert understands that pleasure must always accompany pain and that no decision is escapable. No matter the circumstance.
Depicting relationships in this way, Lambert pushes Beyond the Walls to the heights of Weekend and
Keep the Lights On. Neither societal nor relationship issues go unexplored in these three films. Where they differ is in presentation. Weekend allows audiences to retain an idealistic optimism; Keep the Lights On challenges such optimism, and Beyond the Walls nearly destroys it.
While inarguably trying, Beyond the Walls is never anything but beautiful. Lambert draws from his previous work as a shorts director, guaranteeing a sharp pace. Like F Scott Fitzgerald’s prose, Lambert’s scenes epitomise tersely connotative storytelling. Even every look cast by his leads carries meaning. Gouix’s eyes may have well been a character themselves.
Moreover, Lambert infuses symbolism within the majority of his picture. I shall give but two examples. Firstly, Ilir explains that his name translates to ‘freedom’, an important theme of the picture. Secondly, Paulo appears the feebler of the two until the closing scenes. Attempting one last time to recapture what they once shared, Paulo and Ilir take a hotel room. Ascending together in an elevator, Paulo stands above Ilir. The latter looks broken, back slightly bent and body reclined against the interior of the carriage. Paulo stands to the side, straight and firm. Few directors include such symbolism so subtly well.
The movie has its faults, many of which one could attribute to its being a freshman feature length film. While the pacing proves a strength, it also stands out as a weakness. At times, the story develops too rapidly, preventing a better-developed linearity. Lambert admits that he used multiple relationships as the basis of this film, which may explain this slight transgression. Even so, the flaw merely adds to the experience. Relationships are nothing but dizzying and often erase time-markers. Beyond the Walls, like the Channel 4 series Dates, reflects this reality.
As a notable addition to contemporary gay drama, Beyond the Walls should be seen. The simplistic design speaks to its beauty, its pace to a masterful story, its character portrayals to incredible actors and its subject to an all-to-real authenticity.