The Lawyer is the first Lithuanian feature film focusing on a male same-sex romantic relationship and one of the very few about the LGBTQ+ refugee experience in Europe. But does it successfully navigate these narratives through the lens of privilege? Mischa Alexander reviews.
The film opens with a shot of the titular profession: a man in his world embodying wealth and success, literally above the rest of the world in his skyscraper office. From that point on, director Romas Zabarauskas takes us down a path of privilege and the harsh realities faced by refugees and people without secured status. The Lawyer—the first Lithuanian film with a love scene between two men—not only makes history, but is an assured and moving piece of filmmaking.
The Lawyer tells the story of Marius (Eimutis Kvoščiauskas), an openly gay corporate lawyer in Lithuania living a life of relative comfort and privilege. While using an online sex chat room he meets Ali (Doğaç Yildiz), a bisexual Syrian refugee living in Serbia, and the two quickly bond and form a relationship. Amid other personal tragedies, Marius travels to Belgrade to meet and connect with Ali, only to be made to confront his only privileges and powerlessness when trying to help the people he loves.
The narrative that Zabarauskas unveils to us isn’t the usual star-crossed lovers story. On multiple occasions Marius stresses that he is not the Prince Charming in the story, ready to lift Ali out of the difficulties of being an asylum seeker. But while his hesitancy is initially coming from a place of emotional uncertainty, it soon becomes clearer he’s not the savior because he can’t be. It’s an interesting way of discussing the realization of privilege—it becomes less about acknowledging that other people have struggled in a way that you will not, but seeing the broader system at work that stops them from receiving justice.
The tragedy of all of this is reinforced against a love story that is well performed by the two leads. The chemistry between Kvoščiauskas and Yildiz feels organic; instead of appearing the second they are on screen together, it grows as their relationship progresses. Kvoščiauskas gets a lot of moments of somber reflection and solo silent walks that still manage to hold your attention. There aren’t many moments where Yildiz gets the same treatment as the film is told entirely from Marius’ perspective, but when Ali gets to go into detail about his past experiences, his performance really shines.
Zabarauskas’ directorial flair is evident. While mostly shot in natural light with realistic-looking scenes, at times it goes for a far more ethereal, dreamlike atmosphere. A standout example is when the lighting becomes intensely blue or red, the former indicating the loneliness of Marius’ life and the latter demonstrating the pair’s relationship. These choices are intriguing and symbolic, but so fleeting that they do enter and exit a little awkwardly.
The Lawyer establishes and maintains an engaging pace throughout its runtime. The compelling world that these characters live in feels gripping and the film flies by. We meet interesting supporting characters: Marius, a trans man that Marius flirts with at the beginning of the film, is well written. His experiences and art return throughout the movie to remind Marius of his privileges within the queer scene in Lithuania.
There’s plenty to love about The Lawyer, and I do wish that I was getting to silently weep at the cinema rather than watching it at home on the laptop. It’s not a bombastic film by any means; the beautifully sombre score in particular deserves to be heard in surround sound. The Lawyer is a moving, ambitious movie with a poignant discussion of privilege in a way that is not often seen.
The Lawyer will be released on VOD in the UK from 26 February on Apple TV (iTunes) & Pantaflix via OUTtv.
Words by Mischa Alexander
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