Keep The Lights On (2012)

IRA SACHS

Bil’s rating (out of 5): BB.5.  USA, 2012.  Alarum Pictures, Parts and Labor, Tiny Dancer Films.  Screenplay by Ira Sachs, .  Cinematography by .  Produced by , , .  Music by .  Production Design by .  Costume Design by .  Film Editing by .  Gotham Awards 2012.  Independent Spirit Awards 2012.  

In the late nineties, before the internet took over the arrangement of sexual encounters, documentary filmmaker Erik makes lonely phone calls to 1-900 numbers and, when he hooks up with Paul, hits the romantic jackpot. The two of them begin a relationship that lasts for years, provoked by Erik’s intense love for Paul while Paul descends slowly into drug abuse and self-destruction. This well-meaning but impenetrable romantic melodrama by Ira Sachs has a lot going for it but not enough to overcome its shortcomings: as Erik and Paul,  and  have wonderful chemistry, but Sachs depends on it far too much and short-shrifts the audience on some much needed information about the two of them. The disintegration of their relationship is compelling and achieved thanks to good dialogue, rich, atmospheric cinematography and some marvelously hot hate-sex, but why were they together in the first place? Paul’s character begins opaque and grows into cruelty, and Erik’s open-hearted and endearing vulnerability to him is hard to understand; I consider the possibility that a hopelessly optimistic victim was the motivation for the story, but it’s impossible to know where the film stands on the issue. That said, Lindhardt’s superb work is the best reason to watch it, a bewitchingly charismatic turn by a superb performer who makes a real human being shine out from the obviously amateur talents of a director who doesn’t even change his actors’ hairstyles over the period of nearly a decade (and by the way, people who do crack for years don’t keep their smooth, creamy complexions). Watch it for the mesmerizing performance at the centre, and for the brief appearance by the great as his sister.

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