Native Memphis filmmaker Ira Sachs made an auspicious debut with his 1996 indie feature debut The Delta. In this week's Scene, Simon Abrams says that his latest film, Keep the Lights On — a drama with roots in the writer-director's own romantic past, opening tonight at The Belcourt — is his best work to date:
Simultaneously frank and elegiac, Keep the Lights On is an extraordinarily potent romantic drama that's not about addiction but rather about what it's like to love a drug addict. That vital distinction makes sense, given that documentary filmmaker Erik (Thure Lindhart) meets aspiring lawyer Paul (Zachary Booth) while looking for a quick fling that ends up lasting close to a decade. The story of their affair is not one of doom foretold, but of a relationship that waxes and wanes because it's built on an unconventional, inherently unstable foundation.
That instability gives Keep the Lights On its erotic intensity as well as its heartrending pathos: this is a love that could end at any time. Writer/director Ira Sachs (Married Life, Forty Shades of Blue), who based the film partly on his own life, subsequently acknowledges both the perils and the seductive qualities to Paul's increased drug abuse. For example, a scene where Paul languidly exhales smoke from a crack pipe is not a sign of an impending overdose, nor is it luridly pretty. Instead, it's a moment in time gracefully captured by Sachs without judgment.