Home Video Hovel: Beyond the Walls, by David Bax
For what it’s worth, a film like David Lambert’s Beyond the Walls does represent a social and political good. Its main characters are gay (or bisexual) and involved mostly in gay relationships. Yet at no point is the film about their having to deal with the struggles of gayness. Never do they have to overcome homophobic adversity. That may or may not be true to the lives of actual gay Frenchmen but there’s a subtle but important power to such an unremarkable, normalized picture of homosexual romance. Nothing else about the movie approaches anything equally worthwhile.
Matila Malliarakis plays the lead, Paulo. At the film’s beginning, he has been left highly intoxicated in a bar by friends. The bartender, Ilir (Guillaume Gouix), lets Paulo stay in his apartment. In the morning, there is an obvious mutual attraction but only after Paulo leaves do we realize that he is in a cohabitating relationship with a woman. Soon, Paulo leaves his girlfriend and devotes himself wholly to Ilir. When Ilir is arrested on drug charges and forced to spend a year in prison, Paulo finds himself with no one left to turn to.
Paulo’s initial relationship, with the aforementioned woman, is the first cause for consternation. It may be necessary, for the story Lambert wants to tell, that Paulo upend his life to be with Ilir. But it is in no way believable that this stable, intelligent, successful and mature woman would be in a long term relationship with this man who behaves like a fifteen-year-old at best. Though less pronounced, the same is essentially true when it comes to Ilir himself. The puzzling dynamic repeats itself again once Ilir is imprisoned and Paulo takes up with another man. Perhaps the implication is that these people seek to nurture Paulo’s fragile, naïve soul. Except Malliarakis doesn’t play Paulo that way. He is petulant, shrill and irritatingly immature. It’s difficult to spend two hours with him, let alone allow him to move in with you.
Paulo isn’t the only problematic character. Ilir doesn’t make much sense himself. When he nurses Paulo’s hangover or gently corrects him about Albanian stereotypes, he seems fatherly, kind and wise. Later on, though, he is brash and unstable. It might make sense that being with Paulo would unsettle Ilir but Lambert never hints at that. Mainly, it just reads as the character becoming whatever the plot needs him to be.
It’s hard to take issue with Matthieu Poirot-Delpech’s cinematography, though. Though generally unadorned, the film’s look is coherent and subtly immersive. Scenes often appear to take place just after dawn or just before sunset, in a sleepy sort of comfort where it’s never too warm or too cold. Yet that consistency of light comes to take on another meaning; that these characters have stagnated or reached a plateau. There’s a queasy depression inherent in the sense that everything will just keep on being the same.
Lambert doesn’t earn the accomplished work of Poirot-Delpech, though. Mostly, he fails the film by failing to properly inspire the actors. The characters in Beyond the Walls are shallow and unrooted in addition to being just plain unpleasant. They’re not people you’ll want to spend time with.