Ira Sachs’ Keep the Lights On is an angst ridden indie which offers an authentic portrait of the emotional turmoil experienced by a couple living in New York during the 1990s.
Sachs creates a nimble and finely tuned film by not shying away from, nor exaggerating, the cultures surrounding homosexuality in contemporary society. Gone are the days of outlandish statements and melodramatics – such as Kenneth Anger’s Scorpio Rising (1964) – which, arguably, lent themselves to a detached audience. The evolution in socio-cultural attitudes over queer politics in recent decades has been reflexive in the genre, and subsequently Sachs’ normalisation of the characters and their sexuality makes realistic and intimate world which is audience inclusive.
Erik (Thure Lindhardt) is a Danish documentary filmmaker whose non-working hours are idled away indulging in phone-sex. He meets Paul (Zachary Booth), and the two begin a romance which peaks and troughs over the space of ten years. We are brought into the film watching Erik on a phone sex hotline in his bedroom, automatically introducing the audience into the most discreet spaces of the protagonists. As a result, their illicit actions never seem out of place, they just seem to occur. Though Thimios Bakatakis’ cinematography can’t be considered particularly innovative, it produces an artistic claustrophobia from nearly constant back-to-back interior scenes and captures the difficulties of escalating co-dependence between two people.
By the end, the whole story does just seem to teeter off… but then, don’t most of life’s stories?
Keep the Lights On, dir. Ira Sachs (2012, USA)
With thanks to Picturehouse’s Paul Ridd for the screener.