After a selection at Cannes in 2020, The Last Piano is being released in cinemas. This first feature film by Jimmy Keyrouz tells the story of a pianist’s quest for freedom in a world ravaged by war. The director tells us behind the scenes of this film.
Labeled Cannes 2020, The Last Piano is Jimmy Keyrouz’s first feature film, an extension of his short film Nocturne in Black, which was awarded a BAFTA. The Lebanese screenwriter and director therefore takes up the story of Karim, a talented pianist, whose dream career opportunities are disrupted by the war in Syria and the restrictions imposed by the Islamic State.
When his piano, the only change to escape from this hell, is destroyed, Karim sets out to find the parts necessary to repair his instrument and embarks on a long journey to regain his freedom.
Inspired by true stories
From short to feature film, now in cinema, Jimmy Keyrouz was inspired by several true stories of artists deprived of their art by the Islamic State, as he explains to us:
“When I learned that the Islamic State had banned music in Syria and Iraq I was shocked because I could not imagine that something as beautiful as music could be banned. I started I did some research and came across several articles that talked about musicians, painters, dancers, sculptors, and other artists who continued to defy the absurd rules imposed by the terrorists.
They have thus made their arts a weapon against extremism. So I decided to make a short film – and then the feature film – based on this idea of hope and struggle through art. I was inspired by these heroes, and I imagined the story of a young man who had to rebuild his piano in the middle of a war, in order to be able to realize his dreams.”
To embody Karim, the hero of The Last Piano, the director once again called on Tarek Yaacoub, who already portrayed the same character in the short film Nocturne in Black. Obviously for Jimmy Keyrouz as the actor understands the issues related to his character:
“Karim is someone who fights for his dream and his ambition. This battle is something that I assimilate easily. We all have huge obstacles to overcome in order to achieve our goals; especially in this part of the world… Tarek Yaacoub understands this aspect of the character very well. Already the world of cinema is not easy, being an actor is quite difficult, and doing it in Lebanon or the Middle East is even more so. He was therefore able to identify very easily to Karim. Together we worked a lot on authenticity. The understanding of each scene, and the intention in each moment, matter a lot.”
Filming in Iraq
In order to bring authenticity to his staging and immerse the viewer in the horror experienced by people oppressed by the Islamic State, Jimmy Keyrouz and his teams shot in Syria and Iraq. For the director, “shooting in the studio was not an option” :
“We needed ravaged neighborhoods and a completely destroyed city to recreate war and destruction. So our only solution was to shoot where the story was taking place: in Syria or Iraq. We finally managed to film in Mosul, Iraq, especially in the old city which is the last place where the Islamic State fought. Everything was still completely destroyed, and many streets and neighborhoods are drowned in rubble.”
For the staging, Jimmy Keyrouz adopted different frames between the scenes of violence that invade Karim and the musical sequences that allow him to breathe and regain control: “The sequences of action, violence or war were shot with a camera that was often in motion, dynamic; whereas for the sequences where Karim plays the piano, the camera is more stable, placed on rails. The purpose of this staging is to abstract from the war during the musical scenes and thus to transport the audience from one world to another.”
On the music of Gabriel Yared
Impossible to tell the story of a pianist and the use of art in film without a musical score to accompany it. And it is the famous French composer of Lebanese origin Gabriel Yared who wrote the music for Le Dernier Piano. Director Jimmy Keyrouz was happy and proud of this collaboration with the composer, winner of a César for L’Amant and an Oscar for The English Patient:
“He was always the perfect partner for this film. Growing up in Lebanon, his perception of the Middle East and his approach to composing the music elevated the storytelling. The collaboration was very fruitful. He added a touch, not necessarily oriental, but original and unique in his music. The result is magnificent and I am proud to have had the chance to work with a composer of this caliber and to have met such a beautiful person.”