Review: Soulful ‘Sublet’ finds wisdom in a gay travel journalist’s visit to Tel Aviv

Niv Nissim, left, in swimsuit, and John Benjamin Hickey, in street clothes, sit on the beach
Niv Nissim, left, and John Benjamin Hickey in the movie “Sublet.”
(Daniel Miller / Greenwich Entertainment)

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Eytan Fox’s “Sublet” is a lovely and wistful drama about what fleetingly binds two gay men — one American, one Israeli — despite, or maybe because of, their generational differences. It’s an evocative film that creeps up on you in unpredictably tender ways, so prepare to shed a tear or two — or three.

John Benjamin Hickey (TV’s “The Big C,” “In Treatment”) gives an enormously sensitive, intuitive performance as Michael Green, a travel columnist visiting Tel Aviv to write a piece for the New York Times. He sublets an apartment for his five days abroad from a brash young film student named Tomer (Niv Nissim, a natural) instead of renting a hotel room, seemingly to experience the city more like a local. Although it’s located in supposedly one of the world’s “sexiest” new neighborhoods (or so says Time Out London, notes Tomer), the flat is a mess. But Michael eventually decides to stay and, after a day, invites the financially strapped Tomer to move back in — in exchange for his tour guide services.


What follows is less an exploration of Tel Aviv life (though we get a nice sense of the vibrant city) and more an intimate look at the stark contrast between Tomer’s free-spirited, commitment-averse 20-something and the more restrained Michael, a New Yorker of a certain age who’s survived the AIDS epidemic, homophobia and activism and has settled into a seemingly quiet, resigned life with his husband, David (Peter Spears).

But beneath one-time novelist Michael’s mellow exterior, he’s haunted by a recent tragedy and a current dispute with David, who wants to expand their family despite a key underlying issue.

Meanwhile, Tomer finds himself drawn to Michael’s maturity and intelligence and, in a few short days, unexpectedly proves a guiding, protective force that helps Michael take stock of his life. Each man’s impact on the other is subtle and credible and deftly avoids clichés.

An affecting, beautifully written scene in which Tomer brings Michael to visit his doting, Kibbutz-dwelling mother (Miki Kam) is one of the film’s high points, as is a tensely sexy encounter that involves Tomer, Michael and a dating-app hookup.

Director Fox has previously examined facets of Israeli gay life in such features as “Yossi and Jagger,” its sequel, “Yossi,” and “The Bubble.” But he and co-writer Itay Segal bring the kind of knowing and soulful perspective to their story that has clearly come from growing older — and wiser.


In English and Hebrew with English subtitles

Not rated

Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes

Playing: Starts Jun 11, Laemmle Royal Theatre, West Los Angeles; Laemmle Town Center 5, Encino; Laemmle Playhouse 7, Pasadena; available June 18 on Laemmle Virtual Cinema