Keep the Lights On ★★★

Sachs is perhaps to be congratulated for making a film about a gay romance that is at every turn specific yet universal enough that it has something to say about any that is ultimately doomed, but I’d say his real accomplishment is in charting the ways that a relationship can be defined retrospectively, by its variations in mood. Telling a story that spans so much time dilutes the impact a bit, especially since much of what we’re shown is a series of vignettes. Still, the lack of obvious cohesion, the expressive use of grainy 16mm stock, and the sharp period detail perhaps makes its real subject the way that memory tries to makes sense of attraction. At times, this is intimate and probing stuff, edited pretty ruthlessly and incisive in its variable depictions of sex. Like Lee Daniels’ The Paperboy it is finally a drama about how we often become attracted to those who bring out the worst in us, and like that film it suggests that self-respect is the real issue. Unfortunately, in making that point, Sachs sometimes drifts into sanctimony, wagging a finger beneath a veneer of empathy.