In Eytan Fox’s Sublet a middle-aged American travel writer visiting Tel Aviv forms an unexpected connection with his young Israeli landlord and in the process learns new things about himself.
The power of a kissby Alexa Dalby
CAUTION: Here be spoilers
Michael (Tony-winner John Benjamin Hickey, Hostiles) arrives in Tel Aviv thoughtfully taking in his surroundings and soon asking his taxi driver to turn down the music. He is dropped off in a grungy-looking area of the city full of graffiti and building works.
Arriving at the apartment he is subletting, Michael is surprised and stoically unimpressed to find the young owner Tomer (Niv Nissim, in an impressive debut performance) has his dates wrong and is unprepared for his arrival.
Michael offers to get a hotel but Tomer persuades him to stay, saying it is allegedly “the coolest neighbourhood ever”.
Michael’s relationship with husband David (Peter Spears, Call Me by Your Name) in New York is shown via video calls: they are having a rocky time and we later find out why.
Michael spends a day alone taking in the city. When Tomer returns to the apartment, Michael invites him to sleep on the sofa and stay for breakfast, explaining the aim of his New York Times travel column is to learn about the real/local version of a place in five days.
They spend the next day together, Michael starting to see Tel Aviv through Tomer’s eyes and the two getting to know each other. Michael offers Tomer the sofa during his stay in return for being his local tour guide.
A warm connection between Michael and Tomer builds gradually. While relaxing on the beach they discuss their contrasting views on relationships, with Michael expressing surprise that despite not believing in happy endings Tomer sounds romantic, talking about the power of a kiss.
The generation gap between the characters is nicely played; after Michael is visibly surprised when Tomer asks about his parents – Tomer’s reply is that he must remember not to ask that question of over-50s. Later when Tomer shows him an Israeli hook-up app, Michael asks how Tomer can order sex like pizza.
Michael becomes increasingly immersed in Tomer’s world, meeting his energetic and passionate best friend Daria (Lihi Kornowski, Born in Jerusalem and Still Alive) and in a moving third act scene finds himself revealing painful personal details to Tomer’s loving mother (Mickey Kam, And Then She Arrived).
As they bond the two very different men teach each other things about themselves, what is missing from their lives and what they each need to be satisfied and happy.
In a rare lead role, Hickey is superb as the always polite, unassuming Michael with his trademark reply “interesting”. As the carefree twenty-something who speaks his mind, Nissim more than holds his own with Hickey and the duo make a very watchable central pairing.
Fox’s film is pleasingly reminiscent of Ruba Nadda’s Cairo Time (2009) where an American traveller (Patricia Clarkson) forms a meaningful bond with a local (Alexander Siddig) and, like that film, Sublet is a delicate, engaging and ultimately enjoyable character study.
Sublet screened at the 35th BFI Flare: London LGBTIQ+ Film Festival and is available to screen as part of BFI Flare until 28 March as part of the UK-wide digital programme on BFI Player.