DIRECTED BY: Eytan Fox
STARRING: John Benjamin Hickey, Niv Nissim, Lihi Kornowski, Miki Kam, Peter Spears, Tamir Ginsburg and Gabriel Omri Loukas
A New York Times travel writer comes to Tel Aviv after suffering a tragedy. The energy of the city and his relationship with a younger man brings him back to life.
A New York Times travel writer takes on a rental apartment for a week’s assignment to discover the real Tel Aviv. The apartment’s owner Tomer, has mixed up the dates and is reduced to sleeping on his own sofa as he accepts Michael’s offer to guide him around the city.
Sublet is a drama directed by Eytan Fox, who also co-wrote the screenplay with Itay Segal. The film focuses on Michael, a fifty-something travel writer for the New York Times who arrives in Tel Aviv for the week to discover the off-the-tourist tracks spots in the city for an upcoming article. As he arrives at the apartment he’ll be subletting for the week he meets meets twenty-something Tomer, who mistakenly believes Michael has arrived a day early until Michael points it out to him that it is today. As Tomer pleads with Michael to stay, Michael learns that Tomer really has no where else planned to stay when he sublets his apartment, so he offers Tomer to sleep on the sofa in the apartment and in exchange he acts as his tour guide, taking him to the best places that Tel Aviv has to offer. Throughout the week, the two different generations of gay men converse over their attitudes towards love, sex and life.
Sublet may have a basic pattern of romantic comedy/drama tropes lined up on paper, with Fox’s direction however there’s a certain earnest quality to it thanks to the performances of the films two leads. Michael arrives into Tel Aviv to uncover the city for his ‘Intrepid traveller’ column for the New York Times, but it’s clear to see during his initial first day going around the city that he’s just mentally using this time as an escape to cope with a strained relationship with his partner due to a recent tragedy in their lives. Tomer however, a young filmmaker is the polar opposite of Michael’s personality, carefree and full of charisma, who appears to lose himself in the now rather than the future, as evidenced by his first confused meeting with Michael when he arrives to use the apartment and forgets what date it is. While Michael’s initial instinct is to forget about subletting the apartment, Tomer’s pleas manage to seal the deal and during the course of his stay, it’s the kinship between the two that is forged that makes the film so interesting to watch. Tomer delivers some remarks with a certain honesty that might be considered too blunt (such as “I keep having to remind myself not to ask people in their 50’s such questions” in reference to him asking Michael about his parents), as well as putting his foot-in-it when he brings up Michael’s published novel and asks him why we must go back to bringing up the tragedy of the AIDS crisis as it’s “too depressing”, which Michael reminds him that he lived through it and that he lost a previous partner to the disease. Yet Michael has a certain admiration and sympathy for Tomer’s personality, admiration for his confident attitude with the world still at his feet, sympathy towards his view of committed relationships, in which Michael words back Tomer’s contradictory views to him at the beach.
John Benjamin Hickey, a veteran character actor and stage actor, gives a great performance as Michael, particularly in how he conveys restrained emotion on his face until it inevitably comes out during the course of the final act as we learn the tragedy that he and his partner David have gone through. Niv Nissim really impresses as the confident and charismatic Tomer, especially when reading up and learning that this is his film debut, and as evident by his performance here Nissim definitely has a promising career ahead. Together, the duo share terrific chemistry onscreen with Tel Aviv serving as a character as well rather than a backdrop, though like the characters themselves, Fox looks keen to avoid the postcard/tourist board gloss when filming around the city.
Sublet is a drama filled with charm that as Michael and Tomer discuss their generational differences and what they can still learn from one another. The performances from John Benjamin Hickey and Niv Nissim and their chemistry together is what will capture viewers.