Movie Review: Sublet

A good 25 years ago, CNN ran a series of promo spots under the banner “Sights & Sounds”. Looking much like a video travel brochure, they were slick and colourful. Presumably, they were meant to show CNN’s global reach but I doubt most viewers made the connection. I remember when the Hong Kong one began to air, we all had a good laugh here. Certainly, for well-heeled tourists who were arriving on luxury cruise ships or on first-class seats on airplanes, this was the Hong Kong they were probably shown by their tour guides. For those of us who were living here though, it couldn’t have been further from the reality. Back then, the sights and sounds of Hong Kong included the labourers who hiked up their sweaty t-shirts over their bellies, the grannies who haggled with the butchers over the price of a piece of fatty pork, the knife sharpeners who walked up and down neighbourhood streets announcing their arrival, the stinky tofu vendors whose proximity was noticeable a good three minutes before their arrival, the umbrella repairman on Peel Street, the Buick-sized cockroaches that scattered when we would turn on our bedroom lights at night, the incessant drilling coming from a neighbouring flat only to be outdone by the incessant pile driving coming from the inevitable construction site across the road and more. Sadly, some of these sights and sounds no longer exist here.

In Israeli filmmaker Eytan Fox’s (YOSSI & JAGGER; WALK ON WATER) latest effort, SUBLET – his first film in seven years – New York Times travel writer Michael Green (John Benjamin Hickey, TV’s THE GOOD WIFE and THE BIG C) goes to Israel for five days to write a piece for the paper about the “real” Tel Aviv. He sublets an apartment from film student Tomer (newcomer Niv Nissim), but Tomer messes up on the dates and suddenly finds himself without accommodation. Michael offers to let Tomer crash on the sofa in exchange for Tomer being his tour guide, and Tomer gladly accepts. As Tomer introduces Michael to his city, his friends and his family, the two men form an unlikely, cross-generational bond that pushes Michael to re-evaluate his relationship with his husband back in New York.

SUBLET is a very nice movie – maybe too nice. Everyone is nice here, from the two protagonists, to the taxi driver, to the bakery shop clerk, to the waiter who pours complimentary shots of arak, and to the guy they meet on Grindr. The biggest conflict in the story comes from Tomer having his bicycle stolen and even that is handled in a very nice and safe way. As Michael soon discovers, there’s no place quite like Tel Aviv, and Fox certainly shows the city in its best light.

Fox loves to inject some left-wing Israeli politics into his films and he does so here too, but it’s completely irrelevant to the story because, aside from Michael taking in an exhibit of Israeli graphic designer, artist and political activist David Tartakover, and watching a dance performance by Tomer’s friends, one of them being Palestinian, the subject is never mentioned again. Sure, Tel Aviv is as left-wing as Jerusalem is right but is it newsworthy? Maybe it is for the New York Times, which is notoriously anti-Israel and often anti-Semitic.

Performances are all warm and heartfelt, which make this film a crowd-pleaser to everyone except those who clutch their pearls or recite Tehilim (Psalms) when they see two men on screen having sex. But the fact that the film opened the Jerusalem Film Festival last December tells me that, just like in Tel Aviv, anything is possible.

SUBLET is available now on Amazon Prime Video.

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