Erik (Thure Lindhardt) and Paul (Zachary Booth) in "Keep the Lights… (Music Box Films )
"Keep the Lights On" is a haunting, immersive portrait of a romance between two men, one that's marked — and marred — by both drug dependency and emotional codependency. Not unlike last year's gay-themed drama, "Weekend," it proves an important and mature piece of business.
Director Ira Sachs ("The Delta," "Married Life"), who co-wrote this semi-autobiographical film with Mauricio Zacharias, places his lead characters under a magnifying glass in ways that often evoke Bergman and Cassavetes, while still maintaining his own distinct, impressive style.
Taking place between 1998 and 2008, the movie tracks the passionate and turbulent coupling of Erik (Danish actor Thure Lindhardt), a sensitive documentary filmmaker (and Sachs' proxy), and Paul (Zachary Booth), an elusive lawyer caught between the closet and the crack pipe.
For some, it may seem clearer what brings these very different Manhattanites together than what keeps them together — or at least coming back for more. Still, Sachs fills his deliberately paced film with such a wealth of visual, cultural and sexual accuracy that it makes reading between the lines more of a rewarding challenge than a reluctant chore.
To that end, a bravura scene in which Paul, at a drug-fueled nadir, has sex with a rent boy while Erik holds Paul's hand deftly encapsulates, if not wholly explains, the lovers' deeply conflicted dynamic.
Evocatively shot by Thimios Bakatakis, the film also features nice turns from Julianne Nicholson as Erik's baby-centric best friend and, more briefly, Paprika Steen ("Applause") as his forthright sister.
"Keep the Lights On." No MPAA rating. Running time: 1 hour, 42 minutes. At Sundance Sunset Cinemas, West Hollywood; Laemmle's Playhouse 7, Pasadena.