Since his 2002 breakout film “Yossi & Jagger,” which went from being a hit on the LGBT film festival circuit to gaining an even larger following via home video, gay Israeli filmmaker Eytan Fox has consistently made films of the highest quality.
Included in that list is “Yossi,” Fox’s 2012 “Yossi & Jagger” sequel which greatly improves on the original, as well as “The Bubble,” “Walk On Water,” and the unexpected comedy “Cupcakes.”
“Sublet” (Greenwich Entertainment), Fox’s latest (co-written with Itay Segal), breaks new ground for the writer/director by featuring a gay American actor, John Benjamin Hickey, in the lead role. Additionally, most of the dialogue is in English, with the remainder in Hebrew.
New Yorker Michael (Hickey), writer of The Intrepid Traveler column in “The New York Times,” specializes in writing about what a person can discover and enjoy about a city in five days. Therefore, it makes sense that “Sublet” is separated into five sections, Day One through Day Five.
Day One covers Michael’s arrival at his Tel Aviv sublet. Things get off to an awkward start when the tenant, Tomer (Niv Nissim making his memorable film debut), a student filmmaker, insists that Michael arrived a day early. He’s wrong, of course, and must quickly straighten up the apartment for his short-term renter. Michael, meanwhile, unpacks and settles in before going out exploring the neighborhood and beach. He ends the day with a Skype call from his husband David (Peter Spears).
Michael’s second day begins with a visit to an art museum. While there, he’s distracted by an unexpected call from a woman regarding the selection of a surrogate for him and David. This sets the stage for an important reveal later in the movie.
On a lighter note, there is a shift in the way that Michael and Tomer interact. Tomer stops by the apartment to get his weed and ends up hanging out with Michael. The previous day’s tension has subsided (thanks, in part, to the pot), and their conversation is friendly and funny. When Michael shares his list of places he plans to visit and write about, Tomer teases him, saying that they’re fine “if you’re a Jewish princess on her Birthright tour.” Tomer provides Michael with a local’s perspective and takes him to wonderful places off the beaten path. While eating lunch, Tomer tells Michael about Googling him, learning about his “thrilling debut” novel. But, while flattering Michael, he also inadvertently insults him.
After spending the day together, Michael suggests that Tomer, unsure of where he’ll sleep that night, crash on the couch. They watch one of Tomer’s movies. Then Tomer’s friend Daria (Lihi Kornowski), an actress who was in the movie they just watched, comes by the apartment after having a fight with her Palestinian boyfriend Amir.
On the third day, Michael finds Tomer at the beach. Tomer shows Michael the copy of his book that he found in a secondhand book shop. It’s a sweet moment that leads to a discussion about relationships and Tomer’s sexuality. An uncomfortable Skype call with David almost ruins Michael’s day, which is redeemed when Tomer and Michael attend Daria and Amir’s dance show. The day concludes with another unexpected turn involving the Israeli version of Grindr, and a visit from sexy Kobi (Tamir Ginsburg).
Unsettled by the events of the night before with Tamir and Kobi, Michael plans to check into a hotel for his last full day in Tel Aviv. However, Tamir convinces Michael to stay, telling him that his mother Malka (Miki Kam), has invited them to dinner at the kibbutz where she lives (and where Tamir was raised). It’s one of the more powerful scenes in the movie, combining humor and drama, for a visceral impact.
Back at Tamir’s apartment, “Sublet” makes its most predictable move (can you guess?). Somehow it follows its natural course and is not as off-putting as you might think. This leads to the day five finale which calls in all of the available feels. Even Tomer’s affectionate acknowledgment of crying at the airport is a kind of wink and nudge to the audience. Hickey and Nissim are marvelous (every bit as good as Colin Firth and Stanley Tucci in the recent “Supernova”). “Sublet” is a successful and welcome addition to Fox’s canon.
Screen Savor is a weekly column from SFGN’s film critic Gregg Shapiro. Shapiro is an entertainment journalist, whose interviews and reviews run in regional LGBT and mainstream media outlets. Shapiro is the author of seven books including the 2019 chapbooks, Sunshine State and More Poems About Buildings and Food. Shapiro lives in Fort Lauderdale, Florida with his husband Rick and their dog Coco.