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Sublet (2020) Review: Overwhelmingly Human

Clever, ironic and overwhelmingly human, Sublet shows us what happens when we’re taken out of our comfort zone, and teaches us a valuable lesson in love.

When fifty-something year old New York Times travel writer Michael sublets an apartment from young film student Tomer in Tel Aviv, a relationship begins to develop between them. Tomer becomes Michael’s guide in Tel Aviv, but the city’s off-the-beaten-track spots and local customs are not the only things he’ll end up learning about. If, judging by that description, you think you have Sublet all figured out, think again. Eytan Fox’s latest drama is a film that constantly defies your expectations. At times tender, moving and intimate and at times hilarious, ironic and entertaining, Sublet cleverly tackles many themes at once and shows us that the end of a journey is not nearly as important as the process of getting there.

Sublet begins when Michael (John Benjamin Hickey, of The Good Wife) arrives in Tel Aviv. As he knocks on Tomer (Niv Nissim)’s door, ready to settle in and start exploring the city, he finds a tired, confused young man. Mistakenly convinced that Michael was supposed to have landed on the following day, Tomer quickly tries to make his messy apartment more presentable, in an attempt to persuade Michael not to find somewhere else to stay. “It’s the sexiest neighbourhood in town”, Tomer informs him, trying to convince the man that he can make his place “as good as new” in no time, and ultimately admitting that he really needs the money. In fact, Michael soon discovers that his young host doesn’t really have another place to stay when he sublets his apartment to tourists, and eventually offers to let him sleep on the sofa in exchange for Tomer’s help showing him around Tel Aviv.

As these two very different men gradually become acquainted with one another, they soon realize that they have much to learn from each other, not only in terms of past experiences and daily routines, but also of how to deal with grief and loss, and ultimately start living again. A special bond begins to form between them, a relationship that goes beyond romance but taps into all kinds of love – the sort of love you feel for a partner, a parent, a son, a friend and, more importantly, yourself, all combined into one unlikely connection.

loud and clear reviews sublet newfest John Benjamin Hickey Niv Nissim Obscured Pictures
(L to R) Niv Nissim stars as Tomer and John Benjamin Hickey stars as Michael in Eytan Fox’s Sublet (Daniel Miller / Courtesy of Obscured Pictures)

Thanks to Fox’s clever, magnificent screenplay and to Hickey and Nissim’s incredible chemistry, Sublet flows exceptionally well. The right dose of irony defines every interaction between our well-rounded characters, and it can be grasped in the details. For instance, though Michael’s “Intrepid Traveller” New York Times column describes someone “resourceful, brave, who won’t give up [and] who is strong in the face of adversity”, our troubled protagonist is not intrepid at all: not only does he only plan to visit Tel Aviv’s most commercial tourist attractions, but his mind is occupied by other issues he’s dealing with, so much so that he’s not really able to truly experience anything. A contradiction is also present in Tomer, a film student who believes in making movies that “punch you in the face [and] shake you up like a rollercoaster”, but who immediately comes across as a terrible director of conventional splatter films.

Fox approaches his characters with empathy and compassion, presenting us with multifaceted protagonists that Hickey and Nissim masterfully imbue with the kind of authenticity that makes a film’s protagonist not only memorable, but also immediately likeable, always believable and unexplicably familiar. It’s in the film’s carefully constructed details – revelatory facial expressions, important topics casually introduced in a conversation, years of experience hidden behind a glance – that Sublet truly excels, demonstrating that a film can be incredibly gripping while also approaching important, timely topics, from love, sex and relationships to parenthood, gay history, cultural identity and generational differences.

To reveal any more details about Michael and Tomer’s relationship, the issues they deal with and the impact they’ll have on each other’s life, would ruin the experience of watching Sublet for the first time, letting each twist surprise you until the film’s beautiful message sinks in, overwhelming you with emotion. Sometimes you need a little push from a stranger to start living again, and Sublet brilliantly captures a feeling we’ve all experienced – being lost without even knowing it, until something unexpected happens and you suddenly find yourself again. Intimate, intense, funny, empowering, heartbreaking, unpredictable and wise, Sublet is that film you’ll keep coming back to at specific moments in your life, when you need to be reminded about the beauty of humanity.

Get it on Apple TV

Sublet premiered digitally in the US at NewFest, in October 2020, and in the UK at BFI Flare, on March 17-28, 2021. The film is now available to watch on digital and on demand.

Sublet: Clip (Courtesy of NewFest)
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