Film & TV

In Sublet, World-Changing Contradictions

John Benjamin Hickey and Niv Nissim in Sublet. (Greenwich Entertainment/Trailer image via YouTube)
Eytan Fox explores Platonic and political sophistication.

Sublet starts out as an “It’s not your world anymore” movie in which 56-year-old director Eytan Fox observes the distance felt between a cautious, mature man sensitive to mortality and a freewheeling youth living the recklessness of modern times. Fox then reveals what they have in common. It’s a double character study that penetrates superficial social and political differences.

John Benjamin Hickey plays Michael, a New York Times travel writer who escapes complications back home by going to Israel, pretending to do research for an article. Theater actor Hickey is the first actor to put a perfectly proper, bespectacled white male Times wuss — a definite cultural type — on the screen. His meek, inconspicuous white-collar clerk’s wardrobe suggests a Graham Greene hypocrite. Michael feigns resourcefulness and courage and is rattled by the domestic mess that resulted from his and his husband’s fashionable attempt at child adoption. Meeting Tomer (Niv Nissim) — a dark-haired, sexually adventurous filmmaker of the next generation — whose Tel Aviv apartment he sublets, puts Michael in touch with feelings that he, through imperious class privilege, has disconnected.

It’s not so simple as rediscovering ethnic heritage or sex. Michael is forced to learn about his human obligations. He asks Tomer, “What kind of movie do you want to make in the future?” And Tomer answers, “Why the future? I’m already making them! Romantic horror! Punch audiences in the face! I think cinema should physically shake you up like a roller coaster.”

Michael’s careerist question implies the snootiness of the wary and defensive professional class. He tells Tomer, “When I was your age, we did everything we could to change the world.”

But Tomer mocks him: “It’s not a question of right or wrong. Not all of us likes cheesy romance and happy endings.” This movie talk is not just Millennial snark; it’s existential. The apartment’s Funny Games and Holy Motors posters suggest artistic confusion passing for hipness. Tomer’s cynicism complements Michael’s lost moral connections. Their generational conflict and personal need go deeper than either of them imagined.

Fox revisits some of the same emotions featured in his 2013 film Yossi, a modern Death in Venice, but now in Sublet he uses a double metaphor — to symbolize the men’s shared destiny in time and space along with the crisis of Michael’s surrogacy parenthood. Fox confronts the dilemma of gay self-sufficiency through Michael and Tomer’s Platonic affinity. It’s an approach that no politically correct, issue-obsessed gay American filmmaker has dared.

Aside from the film’s considerable emotional pull, Sublet offers a social and political subtext about Michael and Tomer’s global identity. Michael is shocked when Tomer and his bohemian friend Darla (Lihi Kornowski) are fascinated with visiting Berlin. Darla later performs a dance pantomime of Israel-Palestinian mutuality. There’s also a visit to a David Tartakover exhibition featuring his Peace Now painting that became a political logo. Calling himself “the intrepid traveler,” Michael finds Tel Aviv “full of contradictions.” Tomer replies, “Maybe because we are in the Middle East and want to be treated like we’re in the West.” Sublet confronts us with a world that is changing personally first. Both of the two main characters offer poignant insight into our modern, uneasy attempts at sophistication.

Armond White, a culture critic, writes about movies for National Review and is the author of New Position: The Prince Chronicles. His new book, Make Spielberg Great Again: The Steven Spielberg Chronicles, is available at Amazon.

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