The Lawyer - BFI Flare Review

★★★★★

Directed by #RomasZabarauskas

Written by #RomasZabarauskas

Starring #EimutisKvoščiauskas, #DoğaçYıldız, #DariaEkamasova

Film Review by Amber Jackson


Marius (Eimutis Kvoščiauskas) is a wealthy corporate lawyer from Lithuania who, despite his prosperity and privilege, feels as though something is missing from his life. After encountering Syrian refugee Ali (Doğaç Yıldız) on an online chatroom, the two men form a connection with one another. Ali lives in Serbia and Marius, who appears to be craving a deeper connection than what the chatroom has to offer, goes to visit. The reality of their meeting extends far greater than both men could have anticipated. The Lawyer (Advokatas) is a beautiful multi-lingual film with important social commentary on what contemporary Europe offers immigrants and refugees.


The film begins with a series of scenes that highlight Marius’ experience living as a rich gay man in Lithuania. His story is contextualised in Lithuania with his friends and ultimately represents the gay white male experience. The narrative is quick to point this out, particularly with trans FTM character Pranas (Danilas Pavilionis), who sets the catalyst for Marius realising that the gay experience is not universal. From the offset, Marius is built to be a confident gay man who is happy with his life and those in it, yet later scenes expose his reality. The lawyer is revealed to be lonely in love and struggling in life with the assumed burden of his unapproved sexuality. This vulnerability he later shares with Ali, providing a contrast to the refugee who refuses to present himself as a victim. Both afraid of not being accepted, they find solace in each other.

Writer and director Romas Zabarauskas uses his experience as a Lithuanian film director to inject copious amounts of realism into his characters. Lithuania as a nation does not recognise same-sex couples, which ultimately poses the legal and social difficulties that are explored in The Lawyer. Kvoščiauskas and Yıldız’s acting dynamic is incredibly raw, exploring every emotive aspect of Marius and Ali’s challenges to want to live as openly gay men. Zabarauskas enables the actors to explore multi-facets of masculinity, through what is learned alongside what is toxic and how having money does not necessarily constitute happiness. Marius unconsciously blends fantasy and reality in this way; it appears that he is helping Ali ultimately because he is falling in love with him, but when he realises that he cannot use his wealth and privilege to benefit Ali, he finds this frustrating.

Every aspect of the film builds up to that final moment. The lingering and deliberate camera allows the audience to see Marius’ inner turmoil, along with budding sexual tension between him and Ali. These poignant shots serve as a fantastic commentary on how privilege does not reward happiness, another call back to what Zabarauskas is conveying to us in his narrative. Light-work also reflects Marius’ deep desires, as the scenes are often dark and use the colour red consistently, contrasting well with the bright natural light that floods the scenes in which Marius is experiencing happiness. Light also does well to capture the contrast in tone between Vilnius, Lithuania and Belgrade, Serbia. Belgrade appears sunnier, simplistic and more crowded, wheras Vilnius is cold and distant both in proximity and in feeling.

Zabarauskas takes a sensitive approach with the film’s activism. This is a story about individuals, reflected in an unpredictable and delicate script – along with a very unexpected plot. Marius and Ali learn as their relationship develops and they succeed in helping the other to succeed in vulnerability. They are both willing to do whatever it takes and the narrative ends just as the audience is craving more. This film is intelligent in that it is not a typical ‘fall-in-love’ story; it is also a think-piece on how every country has room for improvement, not only with regards to its refugees, but with LGBT+ and human rights. The film becomes an exploration of what it means to be a LGBT+ refugee in a country that is not gay friendly.

Zabarauskas offers audiences a deeply thought-provoking contextual story through the relatability of a same-sex romance and does so very effectively. Being a part of BFI Flare allows UK audiences to consider UK shortcomings with regards to these contemporary issues, gaining insight into what it means to be LGBT+ elsewhere.


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Resources

Advice:

https://www.petertatchellfoundation.org/asylum-advice-for-lgbt-refugees/

UK Lesbian and Gay Immigration Group:

https://uklgig.org.uk

Further reading on the issues discussed:

“The UN Geneva Convention is clear: sexual orientation and gender identity constitute solid grounds to claim refugee status.”

https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2018/01/forgotten-twice-lgbt-refugees/

LGBT+ refugees in the UK (2019):

https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2019/sep/02/home-office-refused-thousands-of-lgbt-asylum-claims-figures-reveal

#AmberJackson #BFIFlare