Jimmy Keyrouz: “With The Last Piano, I wanted to celebrate beauty, despite everything”

In his first feature film, Label Cannes 2020, the Lebanese filmmaker tells the story of a pianist who resists, at the risk of his life, the dictatorship of the Islamic State. Meet

Do you remember the day when you had the idea for the last piano ?

Jimmy Keyrouz: It all started in 2014. I was a student in New York at the time. Like everyone else, I followed the war in Syria but without documenting myself particularly. But when, one day, I read in an article that music had been banned there, this news acted as a trigger for me. The desire to talk about these artists who, despite everything, despite the shells, despite the bans, were going to continue to play at the risk of their lives. The desire to celebrate this form of resistance but with the idea of ​​an act of hope. In The Last Pianothe central character, Karim will thus do everything possible, at the risk of his life, to rebuild the piano that members of the Islamic State destroyed for him… as if he were thus rebuilding himself.

You first have this subject in a short film, Nocturne in blackin 2016. You wrote and directed this one to prepare for the long run?

Yes and no. I wanted to make a short to have something to show my work to potential investors for a feature. To prove myself somehow. But at the beginning, I had started on a completely different subject before what was happening in Syria caught up with me and led me to imagine this character of a pianist in the heart of a Middle Eastern country ravaged by war. The starting situations for the short and the long are therefore identical. But I obviously hadn’t told everything I wanted to tell in 23 minutes. So I decided to develop a long.

A feature in which you don’t hesitate to take your story into the realm of melodrama. Is it difficult for writing to find a point of balance so as not to fall into tears?

Not really because I rely on my feelings. It is often said that hope is the last thing left when everything is gone. I share this sentiment. I am deeply convinced that there is always light in the heart of darkness. Telling here the only darkness would have had something cynical in my opinion. Because somewhere unassailable. Simply paraphrasing this reality would not have been commensurate with the tragedies that these countries are experiencing. That would have been the easy way out. In writing The Last Piano, I tried to put myself in the shoes of Karim who will not stop looking for these famous bursts of light in the middle of the agonizing chaos. I constructed this film as a fight for life.


And how did you build the visual atmosphere with your director of photography Joe Saade?

I wanted the viewer to be able to feel at all times that even if it’s fiction, everything we see on screen is inspired by real events. Me as director and Joe as cinematographer therefore had to hide behind the story as much as possible. So I fled all stylization. And the filming locations helped us do that. It was obviously impossible to put our camera in Syria for security reasons. We filmed the interiors in Lebanon. As for the exteriors, we shot 5 days in Iran in the city of Mosul, at the end of 2019. The city had only been liberated from the yoke of the Islamic State two years earlier. Not everything had been cleared away, we could still smell the smell of corpses under the rubble… And that inevitably permeates what we film.

For this film where music plays a central role, you have chosen one of your compatriots, Gabriel Yared, to compose the soundtrack. What directions did you give him?

Honestly, I didn’t have much to say to him. I sincerely thought that there was only one chance in a billion that Gabriel would accept such a project and have time to immerse himself in it. But we tried anyway. He saw Nocturne in black and he stuck to the script. From our first exchange, I saw that he had immediately grasped what I was looking for through this scenario: to celebrate beauty despite everything. Music as a way to escape. And every note of the songs he created are the perfect translation.

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