BFI Flare 2021 Review: Sublet

Writer-director Eytan Fox’s Sublet sees the values of a fifty-something gay American writer and a modern-thinking young gay Israeli man collide. Co-written by Itay Segal, Sublet makes its UK debut at the BFI Flare Festival, proving a hit with its gentle mix of drama, engaging characters, and shining as a gorgeous showcase for the city of Tel Aviv.

Michael (John Benjamin Hickey) is a New York Times travel writer staying in Tel Aviv for five days. He sublets young gay aspiring filmmaker Tomer’s (Niv Nissim) apartment from him – yet Tomer ends up becoming something of a tour guide for Michael. The differing values and opinions of these two gay men are put on centre stage as the navigate the bustling city of Tel Aviv whilst forming an unlikely connection.

Segal and Fox have crafted a gently amusing and truly absorbing glimpse into the lives of two initially very different gay men, however, as the narrative progresses the gradual bond between them takes hold. Their initial meeting sees Michael turn up to Tomer’s cluttered apartment, quietly horrified at what he finds. Deciding to stay he gradually grows to enjoy the company of Tomer who offers him frank and honest advice about the city, poses questions about his life, and immerses him into 21st Century gay life in Tel Aviv. Sublet is not a grandiose, melodramatic clashing of cultures, instead it is a naturalistic snapshot of an unlikely friendship.

Whilst different on the surface, Michael and Tomer share their Jewish faith as well as their sexuality. Michael educates Tomer about his life in as a gay man in the eighties, whilst Tomer showcases the fast-paced nature of gay life in the 2020s from hook-up apps to the Tel Aviv club scene. Michael has an attraction to Tomer, something that adds further dramatic clout to Sublet with director Fox utilising the gay male gaze as Michael’s absorbs Tomer’s beauty and youthful impulsivity. Whether this is entirely one-sided is revealed as the narrative progresses, yet Tomer and Michael’s relationship is beautifully pitched with both actors bringing a charm and natural kinship to the role. There is a playful flirtation to the relationship with Michael not being exactly the “intrepid explorer” that his column suggests seen through his tendency to end up in tourist friendly locations and adoration for pyjamas. Niv Nissim does an impressive job capturing Tomer’s ability to help Michael from his dull, albeit pleasant rut – encouraging him to embrace his wilder side, captured in an uncomfortable albeit steamy hook-up scene and a poignant contemporary dance experience.

The city of Tel Aviv adds much character to Sublet. As Michael and Tomer navigate the bustling urban locale, experiencing the food, nightlife and urban character, it is easy to fall in love with city which aims to welcome outsiders. Tomer notes that Tel Aviv is a city in the Middle East, that seeks to be Western yet it appears to have a uniquely original character and appeal as captured in Daniel Miller’s attractive cinematography.

Naturally engaging storytelling and two strong performances ensure that Sublet is a delight. With a blend of light humour, sensuality and heartfelt character transitions, Eytan Fox has crafted an impressive slice of gay cinema.

Sublet is playing as part of BFI Flare, the London LGBTIQ+ Film Festivalbetween 17th – 28th March. You can buy tickets to stream it here.

Photo: Daniel Miller