Oh, sometimes it really is great to be a Belgian, as a novelty hit by the late great Mister John would have it. Such as when a young and talented filmmaker rises from the ranks of anonymous hacks and wows the world with his vision and sensitivity, which is pretty much the trajectory followed by David Lambert who received international praise and became an instant art-house darling in 2012 for his cutting edge gay drama BEYOND THE WALLS. Now I shudder at the blanket description of "gay drama" as it suggests a film being geared exclusively towards a specific audience of homosexual "intellectuals" in a well-intentioned if wrongheaded move made mostly by cinema distributors to ensconce a work of art in a comfortable ghetto as to avoid both controversy and moral judgment, sort of like preaching to the choir. Surely, any story that involves the feelings and experiences of human beings should have universal appeal, regardless of gender, religion, nationality, etc. Okay, I'm ready to get off my high horse now.
If BEYOND THE WALLS was a searing account of the all-consuming and ultimately destructive passion between possibly ill-matched lovers, then ALL YOURS (although the title translates literally to the more genteel "I Am Yours") proves perhaps quite the opposite, a low-key love story incorporating three disparate characters in search of the same thing : a place to rest one's weary head from life's innate injustice. Rotund small town baker Henry (Jean-Michel Balthazar, fresh from Jonas Govaerts' domestic slasher flick CUB) falls helplessly and, so it would seem, hopelessly in love with Argentine rent boy Lucas (the adorable Nahuel Pérez Biscayart, star of Alexis Dos Santos' GLUE) whom he has met through web-cam sex, going so far as to spend his life savings on bringing him over to his decidedly sleepy hometown of Hermalle. Well into his fifties and something of a momma's boy, Henry harbors deep-seated romantic longings he hopes to fulfill with his Latin paramour. Completing the triangle is Henry's salesgirl, widowed single mom Audrey (Monia Chokri from Xavier Dolan's HEARTBEATS and LAURENCE ANYWAYS), whose initial resistance to her employer's live-in lover wears off with each oddball attempt to ingratiate himself with the village's apparently single eligible female.
Gently challenging audience expectations at every turn, Lambert never loses his tight grip on what could have so easily toppled over into mawkish melodrama in lesser hands. While each character is given a set of defining characteristics which might have relegated them to the realm of caricature, they all grow beautifully into real people over the course of the story. So much in fact that it would break your heart if any one of them ended up miserable and alone. Rest assured that an unequivocally happy ending is arrived at, if not without a few genuinely crushing dramatic curve balls. The course of love never did run smooth, now did it ?
Naturally, writing and directing - no matter how insightful and heartfelt - can only take a movie so far without the proper actors to bring it all to life. It's safe to say Lambert has also been blessed in this respect, assembling a note-perfect handpicked cast of three thus far under the radar talents who should be quite in demand from now on, at least if there's any justice left in this wacky old world of ours. Until recently limited to comic relief inspired by his considerable girth, the imposing Balthazar immediately locates the heart of his character, a generally respected pillar of small town society whose dreams of domesticity are perhaps not that far out of reach as we believe. Rebuffing anyone who dares to come close, Chokri's 180 degree turn is entirely believable as Lucas grows close to her little boy. But Biscayart is the undeniable star here, a naturally born physical comedian struggling with the heavy bakery equipment when Henry tries to teach him his trade, eventually channeling Chaplin's little tramp in awe of the family life suddenly available to him.
A word of warning however to those who think this movie's all moonlight and roses, sort of PAULINE & PAULETTE with penises. Speaking of which, there's a few of them on display here, which shouldn't scare off the "gay audience" (here we go again) but might offend the bluenoses. Biscayart's frankly beautiful specimen pops up repeatedly, so to speak, even including a bit of hardcore action Lucas shows Audrey on his laptop in a touching attempt at total honesty. Her reaction is both priceless and moving. Taking its tempo from the many Offenbach arias Henry plays with the volume all the way up in his bakery, this delightful film doesn't put a foot wrong and provides a subtle teaching lesson about life and love and the things that connect rather than divide us all.