Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Eytan Fox
Writer: Eytan Fox, Itay Segal
Cast: John Benjamin Hickey, Niv Nissim
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 5/27/21
Opens: June 11 in theaters. July 9 on demand.
There is something to be said for staying at George V when in Paris, or the Ritz-Carlton in New York, even the King David in Jerusalem. Still, those who unpack their belongings there are not likely to venture out from the tourist spots: the Eiffel Tower, the Broadway show, the Dome of the Rock. You might be able to shrug off your woes from back home, from work, from relationships, but you’re also going to miss something. That something is a relationship with the local people which gives you a truer idea of what it’s like to live in parts other than your own, and most of all the chance of developing a solid relationship with local people whose numbers you will inscribe on your smart phone and contacts you’ll continue with Skype.
So when Michael (John Benjamin Hickey) gets an assignment from the New York Times to spend five days in Tel Aviv—nothing more, just concentrate on that one city—he never thought he would unpack at the Carlton Tel Aviv, or the Isrotel Tower Hotel in the city’s center, but opts for subletting through an arrangement with Tomer (Niv Nissim). Tomer is a handsome thirty-something with a head of hair that would require a lawn mower to trim. Being fifty-five, even an imaginative journalist like Michael could never expect a bond with this fellow who had miscalculated the date he was to leave his walk-up in what’s called a sexy part of the city but is really a near-slum. He invites Tomer, who is subletting because he needs the shekels, to stay with him. Michael may not really learn more about the vibrant night life of Israel’s largest city or about the pull of the beach, but he finds things about himself that he might want to share even with a New York Times reader in addition to the expected cut-and-dried text of where-to-dine, where-to-stay, what-to-do.
As a gay man, Michael has a husband back in New York with whom he communicates on Skype, and arrives to Tel Aviv still mourning a loss. Michael and David (Peter Spears) had arranged with a surrogate to provide them with a child and the baby was lost, giving Michael a feeling of resignation which an ordinary trip six thousands miles away would be unlikely to diminish. That’s where Tomer comes in. Tomer and Michael are like the odd couple. The Israeli’s closets are as chaotic as the city, while Michael is as laid-back as, surprisingly, the city as well. Michael is introduced to two people who make an impression on him, adding to Michael’s pleasure. One is Tomer’s dancer friend Daria (Lihi Kornowski) who performs experimental dance for a small audience sitting about in a circle. The other is Tomer’s mother Malka (Miki Kam), who lives on a kibbutz a train-ride away, and who encourages Michael with the idea that you’re never too old for (fill in the blank). On the final day of the trip, the two men, notwithstanding an age disparity of two decades, increase their bond intimately.
“Sublet” is delightfully modest in aspirations, the kind of film that would be high on the list of LGBTQ acolytes but absolutely entertaining for people of all sexual persuasions. The truths that come out may be those that any American with a subscription to the AARP publications already know but which are dramatized smoothly, the friendship between American and Israeli growing daily in such a way that gives credibility to the changes that affect the writer. John Benjamin Hickey as Michael plays the part as you might expect: saying no-thanks to the prospect of sharing weed with the younger man or indulging in a date with a local, Kobi (Tamir Gisnburg) who shows up just minutes after being contacted on a gay website. Niv Nissim, a 27-year-old newcomer, plays the local as a guy who may have gained something over the five days as well, stunned by his arousal from an older person. Daniel Miller’s lensing does not allow us to see a great deal of the city but what he shows brings us right into the scene at a typical neighborhood known for hipness, perhaps because it is inhabited by young people without the chance to date of moving up.
Given that director Eytan Fox, whose “Yossi and Jagger” covers the romance of two male soldiers stationed near the Lebanese border, “Sublet” is right up his alley. Fox does well again, creating a genuinely human drama with humor and more than a touch of sentiment. The film, which plays at the Tribeca Festival in New York, is mostly in English with subtitled Hebrew.
90 minutes. © 2021 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online
Story – B+
Acting – A-
Technical – B+
Overall – B+