Sometimes when I watch a movie, I can’t help but wonder if the effect it has on the viewer (or at least me) is intentional or not. Sometimes that’s because it’s done something that’s totally undermined the entire movie, but other times it’s because it’s more interesting and intriguing than it might actually have intended to be. The latter is true of Beyond The Walls, although as it went on I became more convinced it was intentional.
Part of the reason I questioned it was because many reviews have referred to it as ‘sexy and romantic’, or something like that, which made me wonder if I was taking the film the wrong way. I don’t think I am though. While I can see the logic behind ‘sexy and romantic’, it’s probably only that way if you crave dangerous co-dependence and a love so all-consuming you don’t even question what it’s built on.
Ilir (Guillaume Gouix) is working at a bar where he has to deal with the incredibly drunk Paulo (Matila Malliarakis). He takes him back to his flat to sober up, which causes Paulo problems the next morning when he returns to his girlfriend and, based on his past record, she thinks he’s been with a man. While nothing sexual had happened between the men on the first night, very quickly that changes, and a bit of fun that surprises both men quickly deepens into an almost obsessional love.
This is thrown into disarray when Ilir is found taking drugs out of the country and ends up in prison.
Although I questioned whether it was deliberate or not, I liked the way Beyond The Walls sits on the cusp between whether the relationship between Ilir and Paulo is sweet and moving or if it’s actually dangerous and rather scary. There are moments – such as where Paulo tries to tie his hair to Paulo’s toes, saying “I’m attaching myself to you” – that are simultaneously filled with passion and more than a little creepy. Indeed Paulo’s general need for someone else to take care of him slowly reveals itself not to be indicative of someone who needs nurturing but that he’s actually rather damaged, and going from relationship to relationship isn’t helping.
It’s not only Paulo though, as while Ilir initially seems the more down-to-earth of the duo, he has his own issues, not least that it often feels like he’s about to explode at any moment. For example, there’s a scene where Ilir loudly asks for condoms in a shop, which simultaneously announces to the world that he and Paulo are a couple. That set-up – loudly asking for condoms – is almost a cliché, but it’s twisted into something new by the fact it feels slightly angry and confrontational, as if Ilir’s actions are less a declaration of love and more a passive-aggressive way of saying he feels revealing his love to the world is taking something from him.
It’s an intriguing, interesting character study of the two men, giving a fresh perspective to romantic clichés and suggests that perhaps the OTT dream of love isn’t either healthy or what a normal, balanced person would want.
The ending is slightly more problematic though. While the final few scenes are powerfully acted and in isolation work as a strong conclusion to the tale, it feels as if the change to one of the characters that got us there has been rushed and slightly comes out of the blue. It still works, but perhaps a few more scenes showing us how that change happened would have made it feel less hurried.
Overall Verdict: Beyond The Walls successfully traverses the knife-edge between love and obsession, as well as between needing someone and needing anyone to cling to. It can be both romantic and slightly disturbing at the same moment, making it well worth a look.
Reviewer: Tim Isaac