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Keep the Lights On

A touching and sensitive Sundance hit that deserved a bigger audience—perhaps it will find one now on DVD. It’s an insightful portrait of a homosexual couple, and their increasing difficulty in remaining together as one falls into the abyss of substance abuse. The film was nominated for four major Independent Spirit Awards in late 2012(Best Feature, Director, Screenplay and for Actor, Thure Lindhardt), and although it came up empty during last month’s ceremony(the “Silver Linings Playbook” love confirming that Sundance ain’t what it used to be), look no further than here for a daring indie that manages to be sexually daring and artistically satisfying. The plot begins in the late 1990’s, and the fear of HIV through promiscuous activity remains a concern throughout. Erik(Mr. Lindhardt) apparently occasionally utilizes a phone sex hotline to pick up men, and eventually comes across Paul(Zachary Booth), and they begin a relationship. Erik, a Danish filmmaker who’s relocated to New York City, has recently gone through a breakup. And with Manhattan lawyer Paul, Erik seems well on his way to overcoming his blues. Paul officially “came out of the closet” by dating Erik, and he has an ex-girlfriend that the new couple bumps into at a gallery. Some time later, Paul catches Erik animatedly chatting with a man passing on the street. Jealousy rears its head more than once throughout the film as it attempts to exhibit the difficulties and pitfalls of the strive for monogamy. Before long, the one-time casual drug-taker Paul, starts missing work. This occurs at a time when Erik is finally starting to find his groove as an artist, while working on a film that documents the groundbreaking contributions of a forgotten homosexual writer and photographer(a particularly rich subplot, btw). Paul ends up going to rehab, recovering, than relapsing. The effect it has on their union is palpable. Erik engages in some extracurricular “flings”. Paul’s behavior becomes increasingly erratic. Can their love affair survive all of this conflict? The film features a haunting musical score by Arthur Russell and the screenplay by Ira Sachs(also the director) and Mauricio Zacharias could be perceived as “slight”. But I believe that’s deceptive. There is a rich tapestry being patiently unfurled in “Keep the Lights On”, and intermittent fall-backs on familiar convention should not be held against the feature overall. It’s an exacting moodpiece that handles it plot methodically over a number of years. It feels quite “lived-in” when all is said and done. Mr. Sachs has reportedly based this tale on his own troubled union with author Bill Clegg. Its mature handling of a familiar and delicate subject is enhanced by Mr. Lindhardt’s charismatic work as Erik. Erik is a foreigner in a strange and exciting land who eventually finds himself in unfamiliar emotional territory too. Watching to see if he can find himself is an oft-powerful journey. It’s a trip the cinema curious should take without reservation.      Grade:  B+

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