Review: Sublet

Written and directed by Eytan Fox, co-written by Itay Segal, a New York Times travel writer comes to Tel Aviv after suffering a tragedy. The energy of the city and his relationship with a younger man brings him back to life. Starring: John Benjamin Hickey, Niv Nissim, Lihi Kornowski, Miki Kam, Peter Spears and Tamir Ginsburg.

One of the most satisfying devices that a film delving into romance can use is putting together two completely different people who seem to have little in common and create a sincere connection between them. That’s exactly what you get with Sublet, Michael (Hickey) and Tomer (Nissim) are from vastly different generations, places, backgrounds and families but the writers pull them together so brilliantly that their friendship is a moving thing to watch. Even better is the tone and atmosphere that they create, they avoid all cliches and cheese, it’s modern, artistic and both grounded yet stylish and robust. They’re intellectual, cultured men but they’re also of simple desires, Michael has just the right amount of pretention to suit his personality without affecting his likability and relatability. Tomer is free spirited and spontaneous but also hard working and committed.

The creation of that atmosphere is undeniably helped by its setting, it adds to the sincerity of the story while enhancing the modern, thoughtful feel to it. There’s a lot of character in the location choices, they don’t feel overly modern or classic, they sit somewhere in the middle and manage to avoid a coldness of a city while gaining the warmth of a small town. Fox’s direction capitalises on that, it has an almost intoxicating air to it, it’s surprisingly genuine and contemplative. His style creates something that’s both easy to watch but has a lot of deeper, personal issues at play; it lets them grow and reveal themselves but you can feel that depth even before they do. It carries an impressive weight in that style and is something that’s pushed further by the lead performances.

John Benjamin Hickey gives a superb performance, it has that classic edge of a buttoned-up guy slowly opening up and letting go but he also brings a lot of emotion and vulnerability. Niv Nissim is entirely charming in this role, he’s energetic and suave; it’s hard to believe this is his debut role. Similarly with Hickey, he brings an emotional edge to his character, particularly in the later stages. It becomes obvious that the friendship their building is giving them both exactly what they needed, even if they didn’t know it. Watching the two of them together is engrossing and touching, they work so naturally together and have an effortless charm.

Sublet is charming, smart, sweet and utterly natural. It sneaks up on you how thoughtful and layered its story is, you get drawn in by its modern, casual and fresh atmosphere but then it slowly reveals its depth and moving nature. Hickey and Nissim make a fantastic pair, they’re effortless to watch and have an irresistible charm to their different yet easily connected personalities. Fox has created a very modern version of a wholesome story, it’s intoxicatingly sincere, carries significant weight and leaves a lasting impression.

Verdict: ✯✯✯✯

Reviewed as part of BFI Flare – Available on BFI Player from 17th to 28th March

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