Among this year's Cannes Film festival line-up is Beyond the Walls, a Belgian film that follows a tumultuous love affair between Paulo (Matila Malliarkis) and Ilir (Guillaume Gouix). Paulo is a dedicated pianist who is unsure of himself, while Ilir is a bass player who is content with being alone. The two become consumed with one another, but it isn't long before their intoxicating love affair suffers the harsh light of day-to-day life.
The eloquent drama was written and directed by promising newcomer David Lambert. The Belgian screenwriter drew on his own experiences to develop the story for his feature directorial debut, and encouraged his lead actors to improvise some scenes. The result is a remarkably moving love story that is both powerful and affecting.
The International Business Times had the chance to ask Lambert about his inspiration, how he made the film realistic, and why music plays such a valuable role in the film's narrative.
Beyond the Walls is being compared to films like Weekend and Keep the Lights On. All three films portray a homosexual love story with raw honesty. Was that what you yourself set out to do?
I wanted to make a film where the gay characters were not just gay characters. I intended it to be like Romeo and Juliet. I wanted to avoid any coming out or issues with being gay and go straight to the point. It's a love story without anything cliché about it. I wondered if the story would be the same if it was about a boy and a girl, and the answer was yes. The narrative structure would be the same. It's a classic love story. They meet, desire develops, and then love and a kind of marriage. Eventually they're separated, meet again, and try to compose something that has disappeared. I think all of that is quite universal. I didn't want to make a gay movie. I wanted to make a movie about love between two men.
What's your take on how audiences in Cannes have responded to the film?
I've been very happy with it. People are laughing at the moments that I thought were funny. I was very relieved. It was very moving to see the emotional responses from people at the end. Teenagers were especially responsive. I received some beautiful comments from them even though I thought the film was too much for that age group. It was a real pleasure.
People definitely saw themselves in Paulo and Ilir. How did you craft such a relatable film?
I wanted to make a film that was close to life. For instance, a real young person's apartment is a mess, but in movies everything is usually so organized. I wanted to make it a bit dirty and messy. I also wanted to approach life in a dramatic and comedic way. In life you can cry and laugh at the same time. I wanted to mix those feelings.
What were some other ways that you created a world that was real vs. overtly cinematic?
It was also important that the way that the characters spoke was realistic. I asked my actors not to learn the dialogue, and during rehearsals there were times that I didn't even want them to speak. I wanted to have a natural tone throughout the film. When we began filming I told them to act out how they were feeling and forget about the screenplay. I wasn't concerned about them saying every word precisely but rather expressing themselves as they do in life. I always told them: It's not Shakespeare.
You've said that you were still developing the screenplay after the two lead roles were cast. How did the actors shape the film?
I wrote the screenplay again and again to fit with their personalities. They inspired me and I wrote repeatedly during filming. They surprised me with their own ideas on set as well. It's a question of actors being very generous with you and having a lot of choices in what you do.
Aside from the actors, where did you derive inspiration for the film?
The film is three love stories I had in my personal life mixed into one. The basic story line is based on a love from my youth. I know what it is to visit someone in jail and to be in a visiting room. I was always surprised how in cinema jail visiting rooms seem comfortable and allow room for people to talk. From my experience it's a place where you can't express yourself. You're surrounded by so much noise and stress. It's impossible to have a real dialogue with someone, especially when you're in a gay couple. For me the film was about trying to summarize my life.
Music plays such an important role in the film's structure. In what ways did the music influence the film?
The fact that the two characters are musicians provides a window into their differences. Ilir is a bass player and Paulo is a pianist. I'm interested in music being a part of a film within the narrative structure rather than outside of it. There are a lot of concert scenes, and I think that those sequences develop the viewer's emotions. Personally, I like musicals and I've been in love with musicians plenty of times. [He laughs].
The music is the reason they fall in love. Ilir is looking at Paulo playing piano and Paulo is looking at Ilir playing the bass.
Cannes has no doubt sparked worldwide interest in the film. What do you hope audiences take away from Beyond the Walls?
I hope that they will realize that they can fall in love and not think twice about it.
Cannes Film Festival 2012