Tribeca Film Festival: Keep the Lights On
Throughout the Tribeca Film Festival, Dan Heching will be checking out all the most buzzed about gay-interest films. Check back daily for new reviews, gossip and news straight from the festival. Visit TribecaFilmFestival.com for more info.
Time Investment: 102 min
Return on Investment: 100 min
After 2007’s brilliant Married Life, gifted writer-director Ira Sachs turned to an experience in his own life to create Keep the Lights On, a completely unapologetic and hyper-realistic chronicling of a tumultuous decade-long relationship between two men in 1990s New York. What starts out as an (incredibly hot and passionate) phone-sex trick turns into a romance so ripe, full of such frank and almost uncomfortably intimate sexuality, it’s impossible to look away, even when things start to go awry.
And awry they do: early on, closeted lawyer Paul (Damages’ Zachary Booth) reveals to Danish filmmaker Erik (the incredible—and incredibly handsome—Thure Lindhardt) his little secret—a crack habit. Naturally, it doesn’t take long for things to spiral out of control, as Erik looks on with a sort of detached wonder. But he is powerless to leave, mentioning something about dealbreakers like we would today, simply because of the power Paul holds over him. To say that the chemistry between these two men—physical, mental, emotional, etc. and so on—oozes off the screen would be a grand understatement. They are completely magnetized toward each other and Sachs does an astonishing job of making sure the audience never forgets it, no matter how bleak things get and no matter how far-gone Paul becomes. The sex scenes, for one, are intrinsic in communicating their love and desperate need for one another.
Granted, it might occur to some that, since this is based on Sachs’ own life, Erik might seem skewed toward the sympathetic: ultimately, his only real flaw is the fact that he loves Paul too much, a clearly tortured man who at many points in the film seems like a total monster. Regardless of this, Lights is a heartbreaking dual character study, like Brokeback Mountain with an extra dose of contemporary reality. It’s also interesting to notice the subtle ways in which we are reminded that this is a period piece, taking place in a time when a phone call to the testing center to find out your HIV status was still an absolutely huge deal. (Sadly, this would no longer make for a very evocative scene in today’s day and age, even though it should).
Also, look for fun cameo appearances by Eastern Bloc (which was then known as Wonderbar) as well as Julius’.