LFF Review – Keep The Lights On
Title: KEEP THE LIGHTS ON
Keep The Lights on is distant and quietly haunting, beautifully shot and a real showcase of excellent performances
Ira Sachs’ deeply personal Keep The Lights On is an incredibly intimate portrayal of an intense romantic relationship gone wrong. Another addition to this recent wave of excellently directed new queer cinema, people will be quick to compare the film to last year’s splendid and deservedly well-recieved Weekend, but to me it slanted more toward the likes of Derek Cianfrance’s Blue Valentine, which was, as it turns out, a major influence for Sachs when he made the film.
Set over the course of ten years, from the mid-nineties to the mid-naughties, Keep The Lights On follows a cut-and-paste format that has become a go-to hallmark for indie films of its kind. We meet the sweet and affable Erik (Thure Lindhardt), a cute, gap-toothed gay Danish guy living in New York City – he’s a documentary filmmaker by trade, but his film, as we discover throughout the movie, never seems to be close to getting finished. After a night spent searching for guys to hook up with over a phone chat line (these were, of course, the days before Grindr), Erik finds Paul, an extremely beautiful and fey closeted lawyer, played excellently by Zachary Booth. Paul’s sexuality isn’t his only secret, we soon discover – he’s also addicted to smoking crack cocaine, something that will play heavily into their burgeoning relationship’s downfall.
The film is intelligently directed – it’s light of script and often keeps the viewer at arm’s length, but that distance adds to its haunting beauty. Thure Lindhart is sincere and extremely likeable in his performance, a deep contrast to Booth’s Paul who is selfish, reckless and helpless, and their anguish is at oftentimes difficult to watch as they pull apart from each other only to meet again, over and over, a vicious, poisonous cycle. Like Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams in Blue Valentine, they meet on an absolute and intense high only to ruin each other, yet they feel unable to break away.
As the film moves on in years of two or three, we watch the ups and downs (mostly downs) – cheating, drug addiction, birthday parties, holiday celebrations, graphic sexual encounters, sweet quiet moments, arguments outside of bars, breaking down to concerned relatives – it really is a series of anthological snapshots pieced together, and the technique works incredibly well. From a director who likes to film and examine the nature of relationships – Sachs’ last few projects include Married Life and Forty Shades of Blue – this particular offering really dissects the meaning of monogamy, support and tolerance, things break people down.
Keep The Lights On is an excellent and devastating film, and I couldn’t recommend it enough – my hopes from this and last year’s Weekend is to see more exposure of well made and written gay cinema, and more films of this persuasion made because of that.