Keep the Lights On (2012) (Not Rated)

"Keep the Lights On" exemplifies what I both love and hate about the indie wave of gay cinema from recent years. Though I still hold on that Xavier Dolan is the master of this sub-sub-genre, what these films can pronounce of themselves is that they feature stellar, genuine performances and they look fantastic...sadly, this is usually not enough.
This is true of Ira Sachs' film of love and heartbreak: "Keep the Lights On". The independent film has done a lot for cinema, most of it is seen in the way characters talk and interact. Writers and directors strives for realism, but what usually occurs on screen is some hyper-sensitive dance-around-the-issue dialogue and acting.
Take for instance a scene that plops us in the middle of the story and the tension. The two lovers that the story concerns have been pulled apart by the fabric of the universe and drug addiction. Platonic to a fault, our main protagonist sits outside the door while his boyfriend has sex with a male prostitute. Half-way through, he is called in to the room and he holds his lover's hand while they finish. The point of the scene is quite symbolic, that our main character is so in love with this other person that he is willing to literally do anything. This, added to sorrowful, apologetic way they hold hands, means that they are still somewhat in tact even through all the drugs, sex, and alcohol...that's the point, but would this ever happen in real life?
Erik (Thure Lindhardt) is a homosexual director of films that no ones sees. The opening scene observes him calling up guys and trying to get laid. He is successful, this is when he meets Paul (Zachary Booth). The two share a passionate night together—the film is noted for its sexual frankness—and Erik leaves his phone number.
Because of time jumps and large gaps in the story, we are never told how the two really come to be a couple, the movie just throws us that plot device without showing it to us. This is common, because while the relationship spans years and years, it's only a few pivotal moments that are important enough to appear on screen.
Paul is still in the closet, he has a girlfriend; but is so drawn to Erik that we all realize his hetero-relationship won't last for long. The two young men start a romance.
Low on plot, high on characters "Keep the Lights On" gives us two characters that we equally are drawn to and repulsed by.
Erik is a clingy sort, he's the right fit for Paul; but he's co concerned with other people that he doesn't take care of himself.  Paul, on the other hand, is as selfish as Erik is selfless. In one of the first romantic scenes filmed, Paul pulls out a crack pipe and lights up several times, while telling Erik that everyone has their vices.
It doesn't become a huge problem; but they do fight about it a lot. Paul is jealous that Erik would flirt with other guys and Erik is mad about the drug abuse that turns Paul into a zombie. Paul will wander the streets and not respond to calls, he'll vanish for days on end.
The film is very reminiscent to the book I'm Not Myself These Days and I had my own problems with that. It's a work designed to evoke an emotional response, and it's really not good for anything else.
That being said, its emotions are very real and very intimate. I had no problem empathizing with the situations.
It all sounds very crass when written down and it only gets worse. Erik has a friend who wants a baby and she's asked him to help her conceive. He's not sure whether he will or not, mainly because he doesn't want to offend Paul...he really wants this to work out.
Beginning in the late 90s, the film spans a great span of time, but doesn't have the maturity of "Laurence Anyways" to span these years with painful accuracy—ironically, that's the problem I had with the film.
Time distends, the problems come and go and the poignancy of the film flares up, then fades. It's a film of love, crafted with love. It's not a fun film, but it does seem accurate. It's sensitive portrayal of love as a hard and strenuous emotion is the modern day view.
It's somewhat laborious to watch; but I do think it is worth it.

Score: ★★★

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