Beyond The Walls

Beyond The Walls

***1/2

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Matila Malliarakis is Paulo, a young man who always seems to be out of his depth. We first see him drinking far too much, at the instigation of others, then being carried up the stairs to a stranger's flat. He falls into bed with the stranger (Guillaume Gouix's Ilir) almost by accident, and seems genuinely surprised when his girlfriend throws him out. Turning up on Ilir's doorstep when they've slept together only twice, he quickly inveigles himself into the older man's life with the plea "Take care of me."

Pitched as an erotic love story, Beyond The Walls has considerably more depth than most in that genre. There's certainly a lot of sex (mostly implied), but even there, who does what is dependent on social status. Though it takes a sharp look at the real life complexities of gay relationship structures built around big age gaps, there also appears to be an age gap between Paulo and his female ex, and, Ilir aside, it's not always clear that he's actually attracted to the people he attaches himself to. Young and pretty as he is, he doesn't need to be in order to win their affection, but he's as trapped as anyone else by this pattern of behaviour, unable to grow up or take any responsibility for his own life. With Ilir he finds a love that might be genuine and mutual despite these habits, but something is about to happen in Ilir's life that will test their commitment to the limit.

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This is a slow burning film that takes a while to get going but ultimately packs a bigger punch than you'd expect. Paolo's skittishness and studied lack of depth makes him difficult to get close to as a central character but the film comes alive when Gouix is on screen. His complex portrait of a man losing control of his life gives the film its emotional core. As the story develops he undergoes physical changes that underline the loss of middle class privileges, whilst Malliarakis begins to dress differently, speak differently and even move differently as Paolo's own social position shifts. Initially masochistic and submissive, the latter comes to enjoy an increasing amount of power but even then clings to his victim status, displaying a cruel streak as the initially stubborn Ilir is weakened by love.

In many ways a bleak and unforgiving story, Beyond The Walls explores love in all its colours, eventually fading to blue. Perhaps it's the journey that counts. There's certainly plenty of joy and eroticism and humour along the way. Starkly aware of themselves as individuals, its protagonists can connect only fleetingly, but it encourages us to savour those moments.

Reviewed on: 29 Aug 2013
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A pianist and a double-bass player find their new love tested.
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