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|Index||25 reviews in total|
As a gay man, I like to support films with gay characters and stories when I can. Oftentimes such films sacrifice writing and acting in order to titillate. This film avoided that pitfall and delivered a cohesive, relevant and tasteful product. The characters were gritty and weren't cardboard cut outs. Personally, I found it a lot more relevant than a recent art film I caught called THE MASTER. The central relationship in this film is between gay men but the film manages to touch on failing/toxic relationships in general and offers up some noteworthy and humorous ensemble performances. As difficult as it is to believe, these relationships exist in gay and straight life. It seems to me that the filmmaker decided it was important to hold up a mirror and show us reality and a real relationship gone awry instead of showing us that gays can have just as little sex and/or just as loving relationships as straight folk. We have enough sanitized and safe portrayals of gays on network TV. I found the performances to be interesting and the characters were dynamic. Each had a journey unlike the static characters in the aforementioned, lauded art film. Since this film was most certainly shot quickly and with a limited budget, I take my hat off to cast and crew. The selfishness, desperation, preoccupation, co-dependency and obsessive behavior depicted seemed right on point. I felt that the filmmakers unflinchingly and without apology depicted the good, the bad and the ugly of this relationship while tell a story about two individuals in love.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I saw this wonderful film at Sundance this year, and while some of it
was difficult to watch, ultimately, the relationship and its ups and
downs made for a compelling two hours.
The lead actors (especially Thure Lindhardt) were wonderful, and the film captures New York and a small part of its gay world in a way that made me feel like I knew it.
It's remarkable that this film--a story of a tumultuous gay relationship and crack addiction--was ever made, but I'm glad it was. I love that it was, and I feel like I understand addiction (to both drugs and to relationships) in new ways. At times dark and dirty, and at others bright and beautiful, I highly recommend this film.
A KVIFF screening of this year's Teddy winner in Berlin International
Film Festival, from American director Ira Sachs. It is a detailed
dissection of the a tug-of-war gay relationship between Erik and Paul,
which soldiers on almost a decade in the present-time (1997-2006).
Thure Lindhardt, the Danish out-of-the-closet actor who has shown the immense stretch in the skin-head gay-romance BROTHERHOOD (2009, an 8/10), transforms himself into a young immigrant documentary director Erik living in NYC, probably sex-addictive, met the dandy boy Peter (Zachary Booth), first time for sexual intercourse, then the mutual attraction brings both into a relationship complex, which encompasses an overt hindrance, Paul's drug-addition, a cliché default even makes for the consistent trappings of gay life, thanks to the barren soil of the genre.
It's hard not to compare this film with last year's indie darling WEEKEND (2011, an 8/10), both stand out among other numerous lesser achievers, but in very disparate ways. KEEP THE LIGHTS ON is a sultry relationship conundrum exhausts one's vigor even dignity to sustain the suffocating love; while WEEKEND concentrates on the bad-timing symptom after a casual sex date which one must cut off his feeling and affection. Different terms, same payoff. Nevertheless, both films have a cracking two-hander cast, in this case, Lindhardt and Booth are fervently suited to their tailor-made roles, especially Lindhardt, literally carries the film on his shoulders to elaborate a not-so-extraordinary script, I do hope he will not be stereotyped into the gay-actor-can-never-act-straight category for his future career.
The film at large is a mean-well, sincere work with some uneasy aftertaste, but never accomplishes itself as a boredom, a welcome 7 out of 10 is my indulgence.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This is a terrific, low budget, independent, limited release, film
about a relationship mortally wounded by addictions. Erik and Paul
(Thure Lindhardt and Zachary Booth) meet while trolling for sex on a
phone sex line back in 1998 when people were still doing that. The
opening scene is of Erik, spread out on his bed in his dingy apartment,
on the phone, clicking back and forth between callers, sifting through
details of size, appearance, top, bottom, etc. These calls are not
about, "would you like to hook up". They are about, "I'm ready, you're
ready, do we suit each others needs". One after another he either hangs
up on them or they hang up on him, and then, score. Next, we then see
Erik walking through the streets of NY, which are as dark and dingy as
his apartment, to meet up with "Mr. Right Now", Paul. And then - the
big reveal. Erik knocks on Paul's door and as it opens you have the
moment that is the giant metaphor for this whole movie: are you who I'm
hoping you are and will this work out? Did he lie or tell the truth
about his height, looks, hair color, penis size? Will this be a
fairytale or a nightmare? On most occasions this is probably where, if
you are the one knocking you turn and walk away fast. And if you're the
one with the door you slam it and lock it. They do neither. And, for
just a second, before the sleaze begins, their eyes lock in a gaze that
tells you that they will know each other long after this encounter is
Writer/director Ira Sachs has some minor problems with this script. It bogs down near the end. In the scope of the entire film, however, it's irrelevant. He has written, and brought to life, a very gritty, sentimental, and real, story about two men falling in love, as one of them crashes to the ground in flames. Paul has a drug problem. A bad one. Erik tries to tolerate it, bargain with it, talk Paul out of it, literally hold his hand through it, until he finally says, enough. The road from here to there is painful to watch. It unfolds nakedly through the actors, the script, a brilliant music score, and menacing cinematography. This is a familiar story, with a new treatment, and it is raw to the bone.
The cast here is breathtakingly effective. Julianne Nicholson (Flannel Pajamas) plays Erik's colleague and best friend with disarming gentleness. Zachary Booth plays Paul, a man only slightly aware of the harm he does to himself and others. Erik's sister is played, sparingly but effectively, by Paprika Steen. With very few lines she establishes the "normal" facets to Erik's character. There's brother/sister tension. But mostly there's love and family. The very thing Erik and Paul want for themselves. One of the more interesting castings is Russ, played by Sebastian La Cause. Russ is one of Erik's distractions from the chaos of Paul, and he is bizarre. They meet over the phone and their first encounter goes a little differently. Sebastian Le Cause has very little screen time but he makes an impression. He is the flashing caution light for those contemplating anonymous encounters. And the way he does this character is jarring. He is as menacing as he is alluring.
Ultimately, this film belongs to Thure Lindhardt as Erik. Lindhardt makes you feel this movie, and his journey, as he is dragged through the madness of drug addiction and loving someone who is out of control. He has the same quality that I attribute to great actors like Heath Ledger. He pulls away from the camera, away from the movie, and draws you in closer, until you're living the story with him. Before you know it, Erik's problems are your problems. Which made me care deeply about both of them. It is an astonishing technique and Lindhardt gives a mesmerizing performance. It is natural and unstudied. He finds the perfect pitch in every scene and the expert camera work is there to capture all of it.
Thimio Bakatakis's cinematography is art. It's not possible to discern who the genius is here, Bakatakis or Sachs, but someone has angled a camera here, boxed in a shot there, and sometimes filmed scenes where a character is completely back lit by a bright sky, leaving them in shadow, empty, lifeless, or unreachable. Twice, you see Erik caged in the shot. The first time at the museum when he is made to hide from Paul's unexpected ex-girlfriend. The second time, at the bathroom door listening to the running water, quietly calling for Paul. If you turned off the sound, the camera work alone would tell this story.
It's easy to get into the weeds too much about how, and in how many different ways, this film is brilliant. But ultimately, it is just compelling. You want these two guys to win. You want their love for one another to trump the mountain of odds stacked against it. You want them to live happily ever after. If ever a film cried out for a sequel, and they almost never do, this one does. Five years after the credits roll on this film I can see Erik and Paul together again, tenuously, carefully, and forever. At the beginning of this film when they see each other for the first time, unglamorous as it was, you know that it's the start of something better. When they see each other for the last time here, I just got the feeling that it wasn't over. This is not an easy film to watch. But much like driving past an accident on the freeway, you can't not look.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Thure Lindhardt is at the center of this film and he's really its only
saving grace. His Erik is the kind of character many of us know, or
have been, in life. He's in his late 30s, but hasn't really done much
with his life, and he's somewhat addicted to casual sex. When a phone
hook-up leads to emotional involvement, Erik's life suddenly has a
focus and it gives him more impetus to complete his documentary film
project. Handsome, charismatic Lindhardt is well-cast, as a non-native
trying to make it in New York. He knows how to express the conflicts
within Erik: wanting love, but pursuing an impossible object. He's
decisive, tender, petulant and confusing, all at once. Lindhardt is the
kind of actor who can do much with small nuances of voice and facial
Unfortunately, Lindhardt is playing opposite a much less compelling character and actor, in Paul (Zachary Booth). This actor gives a professional performance, but Paul is so nearly a non-entity, it's doubtful anyone else could do more with him. He's narcissistic, drug-addled and self-destructive from the start, and he never changes. Erik is narcissistic too, but his character and storyline have more substance. For some viewers, it may be hard to understand why Erik puts up with Paul and returns to him again and again. Lindhardt makes us believe in Erik's obsession, at least most of the time: we don't always want the most appropriate person. One one level, this is a story about the power of sexual attraction, but it's also about the attraction of a 'wounded deer'. Erik thinks that Paul needs him, and that notion is as strong as any to make him continue the relationship.
Also good in the cast is Julianne Nicholson, as Erik's close friend and collaborator. She brings a natural, lived-in quality to their scenes together.
The film opens well, and builds the narrative nicely, until the final third, when it feels slightly disjointed and suffers a bit from a loss of energy. It's nicely shot and has a mostly pleasing music score, highlighted by the song under the opening credits.
Okay, really? This movie is "homophobic" and "makes it look like all
gay men smoke crack"? That it didn't seem "believable"? Huh. Maybe
because I watched it not only knowing it was largely a true story, but
also having read the real-life memoir of the man represented in the
film by "Paul" (Bill Clegg), but I thought it did a very good job of
depicting the tragedy of being in a relationship with someone
fundamentally f*cked up and not being able to let them go until far too
late. The acting was spot-on, particularly from Thure Lindhardt, and
the portrayals were entirely believable. In no context whatsoever was
it intentionally designed to depict gay men as insatiable crackheads.
As for complaints that basically go back to verisimilitude: people, it's an indie flick, and a super- low-budget one at that. You can't realistically depict Manhattan circa 1998 that way, nor can you have characters whose attire and hairstyles change all that much during the film. (That said, I've seen photos of Bill Clegg, and his super-preppy "look" -- which is how Paul is consistently depicted in the film -- hasn't really changed much over the years.) My only issue in this regard was in terms of easily avoidable problems; in the second scene for instance, set in 1998, Erik walks by what is clearly recognizable (to a New Yorker, at least) as one of the bus shelters constructed within the past five years or so. They really had to shoot on *that* street?
My problems with the film weren't with the acting, but more with its failure to fully flesh out Paul as a character. I'm unclear whether this was intentional -- in the context of "you can never *really* know someone" -- but Paul started out as an enigma and largely stayed that way. I understand that this comes with the territory with a largely autobiographical film written by the protagonist, Erik (though I have no clue whatsoever why he's Danish, to the extent of having conversations in Danish with his sister - Ira Sachs is American and Jewish, though obviously a real-life filmmaker), but hewing so closely to a real-life timeline left Sachs with too little time to delve into what compelled him to stay with "Paul" for such an extended period. I also thought there were a few too many largely extraneous side plots, particularly involving Erik's BFF's biological-clock issues and the weird muscley guy Erik inexplicably hooked up with two times five years apart. And why did a solitary, unexplained pair of scenes have him going to Virginia for an extended period of time? (neither of which had anything whatsoever to do with the main plot)
Still, even given its flaws, it's one of the best gay-themed indie films I've seen in quite some time (though "Weekend" is still better all around). It avoids the most typical gay-film clichés (the coming-out stories, the happy endings, the life revolving around discos and fabulous hags) to deliver something raw and real.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
While attending a recent screening of 'Keep the Lights On', director
Ira Sachs indicated that the title of his new film about a gay romance
spanning approximately ten years, refers to transparency, or lack
thereof. An additional theme he revealed is that the characters are
trapped in a masochistic relationship.
The film begins as we're introduced to Erik, a documentary filmmaker from Denmark. He's basically supported by his father (much to the chagrin of his sister) who criticizes him for not having a regular job. Erik has just broken up with his lover and compulsively seeks out physical encounters with other gay men, using phone hot-lines (the film begins in 1998, at the time when phone hot-lines were beginning to be phased out, due to the rising popularity of the internet).
Mr. Sachs holds little back in depicting the sexual encounters Erik has with strangers as well as his new found lover, Paul, a literary agent. They're not completely explicit but there's a raw immediacy, which gives the film an authentic verisimilitude--a peek at gay life that outsiders rarely are privy to.
Sachs wisely chronicles the dichotomy of Erik's personality. On one hand, he's almost irrational in his obsession with Paul, ignoring the obvious reality that Paul is a drug addict and is rapidly going downhill. Erik also keeps a lot of things to himself and there is a lack of communication between the two lovers (that lack of transparency that Sachs alluded to during the recent screening I attended). On the plus side, Erik is deeply concerned about Paul's welfare and is instrumental in getting him into an inpatient program.
While Paul has to struggle with his demons, Erik gradually makes good on his promise to become a successful documentary filmmaker. He wins a 'Teddy' Award in Berlin, after garnering acclaim for his documentary about a gay artist from the 40s and 50s, who Erik in effect, rescues from obscurity.
The tension in the plot is bound up in guessing whether Paul is going to make it or not. After Paul returns from rehab, there's a great scene where he disappears for a number of days, and Erik and his friends have no idea where he is. When Erik finally finds him at a hotel, it's obvious that he's had a bad relapse. Erik hardly seems surprised when a young man comes over to have sex with Paul. Instead of getting angry and feeling betrayed, he accepts the fact that Paul has relapsed and holds his hand while Paul has casual sex with the stranger.
'Keep the Lights On' slows down considerably in the third act, as Paul seemingly is much better after a few years and is now able to work. Erik's attitude has changed toward Paul, who has kept away from him for about a year. When Paul gives him an ultimatum--either break up or find a new home and live together--Erik, perhaps now realizing that their relationship has run its course, chooses the option of dissolution.
Erik's obsessive love for Paul does eventually become tiresome and of course the point is that Erik must go through a process of self-actualization before he realizes he's been in a masochistic relationship. Nonetheless, Paul's breakdown and Erik's efforts to help him, is the best part of the picture. And yes we also want to know what the ultimate disposition is of their relationship.
Director Sachs' portrait of Erik is of a gay man who is not isolated from the rest of society. He has female friends and well as straight male friends, and despite flights of sexual compulsivity, Erik comes off as someone who is pretty much part of the mainstream. In that respect, Mr. Sachs ably argues that gay people should not be considered 'outsiders', but ordinary people, who are no different than the average middle class straight person.
A good part of 'Keep the Lights On' is strangely compelling. Will Paul overcome his addiction? Can Erik remain in the relationship, despite Paul's chequered history? Erik's 'love at any cost' obsession with Paul is necessary to show his self-destructiveness but by the same token, remains unexplained and goes on for a little too long. Some judicious editing, to make the film slightly shorter, would have helped. Nonetheless, this is a film that is definitely worth a look, not only for a few nice twists and turns in the plot, but the particularly strong performances from Thure Lindhardt and Zachary Booth, as the gay lovers, whose relationship reaches its nadir and then unceremoniously, fizzles out!
My biggest beef with this movie was that the romance between the two
main characters, Erik and Paul, seemed shallow. They only meet each
other a couple times before we as an audience are supposed to believe
that they are "in love." Even Erik can't seem to really put into words
why he's so into Paul when directly questioned. That, and that alone,
made it difficult for me to be emotionally invested in the relationship
between Erik and Paul, and therefore I didn't really care about any of
the subsequent ups and downs that they went through. What the script
lacks is the development of the relationship, and without it I am left
confused as to why Erik chooses to stay with Paul throughout the story.
Otherwise, the acting was believable and the plot was interesting. I just like to feel emotionally connected to the love story in any romance movie, and I didn't feel it here.
The approach, manner of depiction, and pace are more characteristic to
a Danish or Swedish movie rather than a US one. The gay topic is
atypical to a US movie industry as well, although a few of them were
even awarded Oscars (e.g. Brokeback Mountain); still, gay erotica there
was rather superficial. Keep the Lights On shows - apart from deep and
painful dramatic moments - carnal part of love and affection as well
(probably too much for certain viewers, on the other hand, the
director/screenwriter is gay). The other main topic - drug addiction -
has been approached more frequently. However, the plot is uneven, at
times the tension disappears and some moves are not grounded, the last
20 minutes or so is protracted, and the ending is trivial. But the cast
is evenly strong, the best performance is carried out by a relatively
unknown Dane Thure Lindhardt (as Erik Rothman); he is worth
remembering, he has recently had several big roles in good productions.
But all other characters are deliberated and performed giftedly as
If you like dramatic movies with passion and addictions, then the one in question is definitely for you.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
As a gay man who's been in a relationship in the past with a drug user, I found this to be one of the most compelling and original films I've seen in a long time. The reviewer who stated he's "never even met anyone who's done crack" and accuses it of being "stereotypical" is either living in a small town somewhere or doesn't get out very much; meth and coke use are rampant in the gay community in San Francisco and other big cities, and this film very accurately portrays the disappointments and the gradual loss of self-esteem someone involved with a user goes through in hoping they'll recover. I don't watch a lot of "gay" films because I feel a lot of them are trivial, but this delved into territory I've not seen anyone brave enough to explore before, similar to "Shame." It's not always an easy film to watch, but it's raw and it's real. It will be interesting to see what kind of box office it gets or if it ends up falling between the cracks because it'll be marketed as just another "gay film." This is a universal story, it just happens to be portrayed here as happening between two men... I hope the film gets a fair release and people get a chance to see it.
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