Eytan Fox’s Latest Film ‘Sublet’ Offers Up Tel Aviv Through a New Set of Eyes
The films of gay director Eytan Fox are the best advertisement for the lure of contemporary Israel. From the military romance of his international breakthrough Yossi & Jagger to the international espionage of Walk on Water and the sneaky love roundelay amongst a group of friends in The Bubble (the latter two written by Fox’s longtime partner Gal Uchovsky), they’re vibrant explorations of gay love, modern angst, the echoes of history and the emotional/human toll of the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict. His latest film Sublet could have been nothing more than an advertorial for Tel Aviv as it places, front and center, a travel writer for The New York Times who attempts to capture the essence of a city in five short days. Luckily, his aim, as always, is much higher.
“It’s a movie about the older man that I am and the younger man that I’m trying to preserve,” the director has said about his film Sublet. “I realized I wasn’t that young cool guy I was when I made Florentine (a television series about bohemian life in the late ’90s). We tried to redefine what young Israel was, and I was one of the gang, but now that I was trying to redefine it again, I understood that now I’m not part of the gang anymore.”
Fox and his co-screenwriter Itay Segal wrote the part of Michael, the journalist, for the celebrated actor John Benjamin Hickey, and Hickey repays him with a nuanced, patiently observed performance of a man grappling with a recent personal tragedy who is slowly brought back to himself, to life, by the energy and enthusiasm of his young temporary landlord Tomer (Niv Nissim, in his film debut).
Michael and Tomer appear to be polar opposites — one methodical and reserved, tempered and rational, the other impetuous, scattered, engaged with the world and all its possibilities. In other words, these two men — embodying middle age and youth — are fated to make an everlasting impression on each other despite the brevity of their time together. It helps that the actors — one a seasoned veteran and the other a fresh-faced novice — have such easy chemistry.
“I think John and Niv created a nice relationship,” Fox has said, “John being this wonderful actor, Niv just graduated from acting school. So Niv’s family adopted John. They brought him over for Friday Shabbat dinners. And Niv introduced John to young Tel Aviv. They really hit it off. So they were a very good couple. And they’re both gay men, by the way. I’ve never made a film where both actors are openly gay. That was a very refreshing experience.”
Hickey doesn’t overplay Michael’s fastidiousness or guardedness; Nissim keeps the flightier Tomer grounded even though the character, with his slow-eyed sensuality and indiscriminate approach to sexuality, is a live wire. When Tomer — a young horror filmmaker — becomes Michael’s tour guide through Tel Aviv, the experience of learning the city through each other’s eyes brings them closer together and, ultimately, closer to themselves.
The beauty of the setup in Sublet is that, even though the men experience a physical and emotional connection, the transaction between them is meant to be temporary. Yet like a great trip to an unknown place, those impressions may — and, in the case of Michael and Tomer will — be with them forever.