Sublet review: Eytan Fox directs ‘thought-provoking’ tale of two generations

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Israeli director Eytan Fox returns with a thought-provoking new piece of Queer cinema entitled Sublet.

The film follows New York Times travel writer Michael (John Benjamin Hickey) as he arrives in Tel Aviv, Israel on a writing assignment.

Renting a private apartment in the city, Michael finds that he is being sublet this residence from younger filmmaker Tomer (Niv Nissim), who has confused the dates he was due to rent out the apartment and ends up staying as a guest in his own home.

However, Michael is more than happy to keep his free-spirited temporary landlord around and Tomer offers to show the writer around the 'real' Tel Aviv for his article.

Along the way, Michael confronts his feelings surrounding his long-term relationship back home and his thoughts on what legacy he leaves behind when he is gone, with the artistic and unconventional Tomer being pivotal in this journey.

John Benjamin Hickey stars as Michael in Eytan Fox’s Sublet
(Image: Daniel Miller/Courtesy of the BFI)

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So, with a naturalistic and non-intrusive directorial eye, Fox focuses on the delicate boundaries and lack thereof between his two leads and explores the generational differences between Michael and Tomer.

As the middle-aged Michael comes from an older generation who fought for gay rights, dealt with the AIDS crisis in the US and has ached for the conventional familial legacy he has been long denied, his time with a relaxed, label-free and hedonistic Tomer leaves him with food for thought.

Hickey crafts a slightly inhibited, awkward and haunted figure who is believably introverted but rich in buried trauma and grief, along with a hidden desire for parenthood that tries to escape in an attempt to escape. It’s an understated and impressive turn.

(L to R) John Benjamin Hickey stars as Michael and Niv Nissim stars as Tomer in Eytan Fox’s Sublet
(Image: Daniel Miller/Courtesy of the BFI)

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Equally noteworthy is the charming and entirely natural turn from newcomer Nissim who makes Tomer likeable, attractive and complicated in his own way.

Together the two leads share a quiet but fiery chemistry that makes the exploration of themes surrounding sexuality, relationships and political identity all the more believable.

There is also a depiction of the realities of living in a place where the ongoing Israel-Palestine conflict lingers in the background and what this means for its citizens' interpersonal relationships.

Sublet has a real sense of place with transportive effect achieved by Fox that adds to the authenticity and specificity of this study of its two protagonists  – which is most appropriate considering it focuses primarily on a travel writer.

(L to R) Niv Nissim stars as Tomer and John Benjamin Hickey stars as Michael in Eytan Fox’s Sublet
(Image: Daniel Miller/Courtesy of the BFI)

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Scenes of erotic desire are also ripe with subtext and never feel extraneous or gratuitous, with perhaps the sexiest of sequences coming from the subtler of gestures between its leads.

The action builds through some honest conversations and discussion of the central themes at play but in a manner that feels essential, organic and not contrived in the slightest.

Ultimately, Sublet is a vivid and well-acted drama from filmmaker Eytan Fox that examines the commonalities and differences at play between two generations of gay men.

Verdict

Sublet is a thought-provoking and detailed portrait of two characters facing up to the differences and similarities between two generations of gay men.

Sublet was shown at BFI Flare London Film Festival 2021 as part of its Hearts strand.

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