Sublet Review: BFI Flare 2021

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Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Two men of different generations and cultures form a bond in Sublet, a gentle holiday dramedy set over five days in Israel

Tony award winning actor John Benjamin Hickey stars as Michael, a journalist for the New York Times who writes a travel column about spending five days in a new city to get to know it’s ‘underground, non-touristy’ side. For his latest article he travels to Tel Aviv and decides to sublet an apartment to get a feel for the local neighbourhood. It’s a well worn meet cute when his very handsome host Tomar (newcomer Niv Nissim) turns out to have mixed up the days and has to crash on the sofa. Michael takes an immediate interest in Tomar’s free spirited life and convinces him to be his guide for the few days in order to get a local view on the city. Whilst the pair have little in common, they soon begin to enjoy each others company.

It’s a classic odd couple pairing with the cultural and generational differences between the two frequently being played for, if not out and out laughs, then at least amusement. Michael is a New Yorker in his 50s with a long term partner. His life is clean, orderly and well medicated with little room for adventure, despite what his ”intrepid travel” column might suggest. Tomar is a film student caught up in all the arrogance of youth, content to sleep and party his way around the city and make art with his friends with few concerns about the future or the wider world.

John Benjamin Hickey as Michael in Sublet

Whilst there’s plenty of playful teasing the exchanges between the two are largely endearing, particularly as we see Michael learn to let loose and have the tiniest bit of fun. Discussions turn to love and dating, family and relationships and experiences with childhood and raising children. Neither’s attitudes seem lesser or looked down upon and each man feels naturally that they have something to learn from the other.

At one point Tomar professes that he ”hates rom coms” so of course Sublet has to throw in a few classic rom com tropes for good measure, but there are enough dramatic moments to stop it becoming saccharine sweet. Hickey does a great job during some genuinely uncomfortable fish out of water moments and even better as the audience are slowly let in to some ‘tragic backstory’ moments in his past. He carries the film with a quiet dignity.

Niv Nissim as Tomar in Sublet

Nissim as Tomar is charming and full of life, with the conversations between him and his young artistic friends serving as a good insight into the feelings and attitudes of young Israelis in the present day. Sublet thankfully does not feel like one long advert for the Israeli tourist board, with discontentment sometimes voiced and the pretty beaches of the city being utilised for drama rather than glamour. For all that it might set itself up as being a story about a man travelling around Tel Aviv, Sublet manages to skip the sights and instead remain grounded in it’s human story.

Sublet isn’t really treading any new ground and will not take you to any surprising conclusions, but it’s hard to be mad about it. It’s a sweet 90 minutes about a younger man helping an older to overcome his demons and embrace life again set against a bustling and sunny backdrop that serves as a nice bit of escapism. With a few unexpected turns along to road to a comforting conclusion, it’s on the whole a pleasing package of charming actors and tender storytelling.

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

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