Despite BFI Flare having fallen foul of the current global pandemic. Here at Cinerama Film, we remain committed to bringing you some of the best films this year’s festival had to offer. Working with filmmakers and publicists who have seen world premieres of their hard work sadly delayed or cancelled. We are therefore delighted to bring you a review of Romas Zabarauskas’ brand new film The Lawyer (Advokatas). A film that was due to have its premiere this week at BFI Flare.
Following his 2016 film You Can’t Escape Lithuania, writer/director Romas Zabarauskas brings us a film that not only explores the interface between wealth and position in gay life. But also offers a complex dissection of the journey taken by LGBTQ refugees in Europe. Dovetailing an unlikely romance with a nuanced exploration of the barriers faced by refugees in the apparent safe haven of European culture. Never succumbing to easy solutions as two opposing worlds of gay experience meet in Belgrade.
Marius (Eimutis Kvosciauskas) is a successful lawyer based in Vilnius, Lithuania. His life a mix of business, parties and a vibrant circle of young friends. However, there is also something missing from his abundant life. With his wealth and status belittled by creeping loneliness. As his life goes from one casual meet to another in a sea of fleeting connections.
However, on accessing an online gay webcam service, where sexual gratification can be brought or sold with little conversation. Marius finds himself intrigued by Ali (Dogac Yildiz), a Syrian refugee earning a meagre living through online prostitution. His intrigue and desire leading him to ask Ali for his phone number. Breaking the rules of a site where sexual activity is based purely on money and anonymity. While Marius’ interest in Ali ranges from a need for something real to sexual power play. Ali’s interest in Marius centres on his career as a lawyer. A glimmer of legal hope that could enable his escape from the refugee camp of his social imprisonment.
As Marius ventures to Belgrade to meet Ali for the first time. Two worlds collide as experience, wealth and position interface with belonging and pride. Ultimately leading both men to an unlikely relationship that tests the boundaries of legal support and the fight for freedom, love and understanding.
There is always an inherent risk when combining important social commentary with romantic escapism. One that speaks to the uncomfortable interface between fantasy and reality in both equality and human rights. Especially in countries where those very rights still fall short of the protection needed. This risk is even greater when exploring the plight of refugees in finding a safe haven, free from persecution and discrimination. Therefore, it is unusual to find a film that so eloquently balances a social and romantic narrative. Layering its story with heartfelt emotion, while challenging public perceptions and unconscious bias. But Romas Zabarauskas achieves just that in a film that is both beautiful and haunting in equal measure. Combining the freedom of love, with the social challenges of identity, safety and belonging.
The Lawyer not only dissects the reality that LGBTQ refugee experience can differ based on the actual or perceived label an individual carries. But also asks us all to reflect on where vulnerability based on sexual orientation starts and ends when seeking refuge. As countries seen as being a potential safety net can also accelerate rather than diminish sexual risk. As communities built on capitalism reject those fleeing wars, while equally embracing the use of individuals for sexual gratification or labour.
However equally fascinating is the journey of Marius. Who finds his privilege of protection born of wealth evaporating through his connection to Ali. His self-protective bubble pierced by an understanding of the wider needs of a global LGBTQ community. An awakening beautifully brought to life in the hands of Eimutis Kvosciauskas.
Equally outstanding is the interface between emotion and colour within the cinematography of Narvydas Naujalis. As we are taken from the deep red of desire, through to the cold blue of isolation and warm autumnal colours of belonging. And while romantic escapism surrounds the conclusion of Marius and Ali’s journey. Direction never allows this to replace the brutal realisation that legal systems designed to protect those in need often fail.
The Lawyer provides us with a truly unique and visually stunning journey into what it means to be human. The borders and barriers of nationalism no match for humanity and love. Ultimately providing us with a journey that asks us all to open our hearts and minds to those whose lives have been changed through war or persecution. While in turn challenging the damaging perceptions those seeking refuge are subjected to. Perceptions built around refugees as victims or villains. Whereas in reality, they are both heroes and survivors who seek to build a better future. And deserve the right to do so without the fear of rejection.
Director: Romas Zabarauskas