Ira Sachs directs and co-wrote the screenplay for this semi-autobiographical tale about a destructive same-sex relationship set in the 1990s of New York city.
When we first meet Sachs' surrogate Erik (played tenderly by Thure Lindhardt) he is on a party-line hoping to hook up with random strangers in the city. Erik encounters Paul (Zachary Booth) on one of these nights and there is an instant connection between the two; Paul however is a closeted homosexual and with his girlfriend. Erik persists though and slowly the intense bond between the two leads to Paul's coming out , however, Paul has a strong drug habit that descends into addiction.
Erik also has his personal problems, he is a documentary filmmaker who is struggling to get funding and will not use his family's money to help cultivate his work, instead focus on outside funding. Cleverly, Sachs chose to depict himself as a foriegner, to give that added dimension of foreignness as otherness. Erik is the extreme outsider in New York - gay, foreign and out of work, but Lindhardt's performance full of doe-eyed innocence is a pleasing one, he is a soul in search of love, yet ignorant of the hurt he has to go through to get it.
At times the relationship is depicted with raw intensity that can be unsettling. Paul's habit to disappear due to his drug habit culminates in the highlight of his downfall when he ends up in a plush Manhattan hotel during a cocaine binge. Erik visits hoping to persuade Paul to come back to their house; yet Paul is too far gone and we witness Paul sleep with a rent boy whilst Erik is in the next room, Erik even goes to the length of watching as if to comfort Paul during his waywardness.
These moments albeit expertly performed by the actors, left this reviewer at times cold and numb from the lack of awareness in Paul's character in his own plight and the harm he causes Erik. Erik wins a prestigious documentary award, yet he does not seem to make another film whilst is in the relationship, therefore the choice that Erik has to make should be easy and yet the sense of frustration in this depiction is palpable.
Thumbs up for the acting and bravery of depicting a passionate relationship helped by an evocative soundtrack by late New York composer Arthur Russell, but thumbs down for making Erik seem like such a fool in love.
Keep the Lights On is released from Peccadillo Pictures - which released Weekend from the 2011 London Film festival - on DVD today January 28th