Movie review: Keep The Lights On is obviously very personal

It is evident early into Ira Sachs’ film Keep The Lights On that we’re watching something very personal, but the overall effect is one of fragments of that personal story, as if clouded by the very drugs used by one of his film’s central characters.

Based on Sachs’ real-life relationship with New York adman Bill Clegg, whose 2010 book “The Portrait of an Addict as a Young Man” also chronicles the couple’s relationship, Keep The Lights On follows the ten year on-again-off-again relationship between documentary filmmaker Erik (Thure Lindhardt) and literary lawyer Paul (Zachary Booth).

A textbook co-dependent, Erik stands by his man over their turbulent decade together as Paul’s addiction to crack becomes more intense and he floats in and out of his lover’s life on a whim.  Where we all hope we would have the courage and sense to take the advice of our friends to get out of this destructive relationship, Erik dutifully ignores that same advice.  Ironically, that Erik battles his own addiction to sex is only casually observed.

Zachary Booth and and Thure Lindhardt in Ira Sachs' movie Keep the Lights On.
Zachary Booth and Thure Lindhardt in a scene from Ira Sachs’ film Keep the Lights On.

A sparingly quiet film, Sachs’ decision to focus the majority of his film on the two is both a blessing and a curse as he builds the notion of a love oblivious to the pain each suffers.  The pain both feel may be very real, but that pain is so internalized it stagnates much of the narrative; we watch as the two repeat their unhealthy relationship, oblivious to the world around them.

Beautifully shot, Sachs reinforces that clouded feel of his story with an almost translucent and muted palette from cinematographer Thimios Bakatakis and a wonderful score from cellist Arthur Russell.

Perhaps most surprising is that Keep The Lights On is not really a gay story; it is a story of a troubled relationship where the two happen to be gay.  For those that welcome the incidental nature of being gay in cinema this may be cause for celebration, unfortunately the end result here is that it is neither a great gay film nor a great relationship film.


Keep The Lights On

Ira Sachs | USA | 101 minute.  Playing as part of the 2012 Vancouver International Film Festival.

Wed. Oct 3, 9:15 pm, Granville #2
Thu. Oct 4, 12:20 pm, Granville #1

Visit for tickets and information.

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