The Lawyer review – unique and hyper-focused character study

This landmark drama from Lithuanian filmmaker Romas Zabarauskas tells of a privileged gay man’s emotional reckoning

Romas Zabarauskas’ The Lawyer follows the privileged life of corporate lawyer Marius, played by Eimutis Kvoščiauskas. Shaken by the death of his estranged father, Marius seeks comfort with handsome sex-cam model Ali (Doğaç Yildiz), a bisexual Syrian refugee trapped in a camp in Belgrade. A personal reckoning ensues for the titular professional.

It begins with a day in the life of Marius: the status quo. By day he’s the slick, charming corporate type; by night he’s very much the same. His professional persona carries through to his personal life like an irremovable armour, his cold and efficient air blending with the grey Vilnius cityscape. But his father’s passing unexpectedly shifts his world off its axis, and he is suddenly compelled to visit Ali in Belgrade. For a man who is used to getting what he wants, the difficulty in finding a path for Ali to a country less hostile to LGBT+ people frustrates him. At the same time a tricky romance blossoms between the two.

Kvoščiauskas and Yildiz conjure the mutual magnetism necessary for a romance of this type to work; the pair effortlessly fit together in the frame. Kvoščiauskas’ performance is particularly powerful as we see Marius go on a journey of self-exploration that confronts his privileges and widens his perspective. One scene sees the previously hardened Marius sobbing as watches the coming out video of Pranas, a trans acquaintance. It is the strength and sacrifice that Pranas shows in his story that Marius struggles to see in himself.

Whilst Marius’ emotional journey is well-served, the inordinate focus towards it tends to neglect Ali’s experiences as a closeted refugee. The most poignant moments are those rare occasions that Ali talks of the tragedies of his past. But Marius ventures to Ali’s world only to whisk him off to pockets of his own life, namely his luxurious hotel suite, as if Ali’s reality is merely adjacent to Marius’. Despite this, there is still a sense of realism as Marius learns his optimal outcome is far out of reach; a Cinderella story this is not, we are told. This holds true until the conclusion veers towards a fairy tale ending that is irreconcilable with the established tone.

Zabarauskas’ direction is stylish and competent; noteworthy is the film’s manipulation of time in emotionally arduous moments. But overly dramatic flourishes, such as a slow motion shot of a coffee cup shattering or a monochromatic dream-like sequence, prove distracting. The delicate, piano-led score by Ieva Marija Baranauskaite is romantic and melancholic in all the right moments.

As the first Lithuanian film to feature a gay love scene, The Lawyer is not just a landmark movie, but hopefully also a sign that more stories like this will be explored. As a retrospective reckoning of one’s privileges, The Lawyer is astute and effective. But it is ultimately limited by its hyper-focus on Marius’ journey and a desire for a happy ending.

The Lawyer was screened as part of the BFI Flare Festival 2020. A UK release date is yet to be set.

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