A corporate lawyer Marius (Eimutis Kvosciauskas) from Vilnius falls for dark handsome Syrian refugee Ali (Dogac Yildiz) who doubles up as a cam boy in writer/director’s Romas Zabarauskas LGBTQ+ drama The Lawyer, (Advokatas). Familiar gay tropes of cam sex, a jaded old queen and an over the top wealthy gallery owner combine to give an overly earnest account of an LGBTQ+ asylum seeker.
A besotted Marius is keen to move matters off cam and into his bed, or at least into a more personal virtual space for now. But as his infatuation intensifies, he inevitably flies to Belgrade, where Ali resides, in hopes of a romantic week with his Arab prince. Only it turns out to be a set-up, of sorts. Ali has lured him on false pretences, more interest in his legal expertise helping him seek LGBTQ+ asylum into an EU country.
Feeling tricked, Marius is initially reluctant to help and shuts Ali out, but sticks around to see the sights and contemplate. The realisation hits him, this is an opportunity to help someone outside of his cushy life and he’s likely to get some in the process. So, he eventually comes to Ali’s rescue. Yet seeking asylum as an LGBTQ+ refugee proves harder than they both thought and resort to concocting a clever, if cruel, plan of escape at the expense of an unassuming Grindr hookup.
Kvosciauskas’ Marius is a full-bodied character, nuanced, multidimensional, a combination of cynicism and curiousness, contradicting Yildiz’s one-dimensional Ali. Ali feels like a pejorative token presence as the object to be desired and saved. Even Ali himself is hesitant to be seen as a victim, still everything in the film indicates otherwise. In fairness they are working with a patchy script. Their conversational English, neither of their mother tongue, feels stilted and wooden, almost as if the voices have been dubbed over; dumbing down any of sense of urgency in Ali’s predicament or able to convey a morsel of warmth between the two.
Zabarauskas adds various other sub-plots into the mix; whether its Marius’ gay-life in Vilnius or his wealthy attention seeking client Darya (Darya Ekamasova). The latter strand is practically pointless if not for Darya’s over-dramatics didn’t kickstart Marius clichéd light bulb moment. A dinner in the initial scenes in Marius’ swanky apartment in Vilnius is perhaps when the film is most in its element with an ease and flow of the guests’ banter, speaking in Lithuanian, and the actors’ relaxed and natural body language.
Marius’ demeanour, his apartment, even his refined culinary offerings are a signifier of his own rags to riches story and his perfect assimilation into wealthy heteronormative gayness. What is most interesting when these boundaries are tested. Taking a shining to one of the young male guests, he is shocked at the revelation he is trans man. A plot highlight dropped way too early and thinly explored, which could have been a fascinating study of the dynamics of such a relationship; but that’s another film.
Perhaps Zabarauskas was eager to tick as many boxes, pack in as many ideas as possible from trans issues to the refugee crises; albeit good ideas which have potential on their own right, but in this instance, they are competing against each other and ultimately it all falls flat.
Due to the COVID-19, this year’s BFI Flare was cancelled. The festival has made some films available to watch on their digital player bfi.org.uk/flare Check #BFIFlareAtHome for more updates.