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Keep The Lights OnUSA 2012
Directed by Ira Sachs
Running time 103 minutes
I don’t know to what extent Ira Sachs’ film about the nine year relationship between a gay documentary film-maker, Erik (Thure Lindhardt) living in Manhattan, and his longtime lover, Paul (Zachary Booth), a Random House lawyer, is autobiographical but it certainly feels as if it draws on lived experience. This is both the film’s strength and its weakness.
On the one hand we get a candid portrayal of gay men’s sex lives and scenes between the two men that feel authentic but overall the film wants in dramatic bite with Sachs and co-writer Mauricio Zacharias content to give a schematic narrative form to moments which apparently were significant to the director (I’m assuming that he is more or less represented by Eric) but which do not cohere into a dramatic whole or even offer much insight into either character or their relationship. As is commonly the case, sex provides the catalyst and initial inducement for the relationship but what sustains it, and does so for a long time, beyond the satisfaction of mutual lust is far from clear.
I was a fan of Sachs' previous film, Married Life (2008), but Keep the Lights On feels like a self-indulgence, a story insufficiently grounded in a context (we get title cards with dates but the characters appear unchanged) with protagonists insufficiently developed (or the performances insufficiently robust) to engage us.