KEEP THE LIGHTS ON (Ira Sachs). 101 minutes. Opens Friday (October 12) at the TIFF Bell Lightbox. See times. Rating: NNNN
Straight directors might occasionally try to capture urban gay relationships on screen, but count on a queer director like Ira Sachs (Forty Shades Of Blue) to get the details and tone right.
Keep The Lights On is an uncompromising take on the tumultuous decade-long relationship between New York documentary filmmaker Erik (Thure Lindhardt) and literary lawyer Paul (Zachary Booth). After meeting on a phone-sex line - hey, it's 1998 - the two hook up, hit it off and soon become boyfriends. Then Paul's crack habit complicates things.
It's a familiar story of love, lies and relapses, given added texture by the fact that it's loosely based on Sachs's own high-profile relationship with literary agent Bill Clegg, who penned a memoir about his drug addiction two years ago.
Making Erik a Danish émigré was a clever move, and Lindhardt's character, with his soft accent and fearful, sleep-deprived eyes, completely changes when he's with Paul. You can sense Erik's layers of pain when he wants to be with his lover even at the lowest point; the scene where he comforts a drugged-out Paul who's being fucked by a prostitute is devastating.
The script, by Sachs and Mauricio Zacharias, takes a clear-eyed look at urban life, straight and gay, where friends, lovers and even colleagues are constantly negotiating how much they can live with and whether they should cut their losses and move on.