22 June 2024

BFI Flare Film Festival Review – The Lawyer (2020)

The Lawyer (or Advokatas, as it was originally titled) is a potently political, interpersonal exploration of queer identity within Europe. Romas Zabarauskas writes, directs and produces a timely addition to the BFI Flare at home collection; thought-provoking, visually stunning and more relevant than ever before. Despite being unable to make its public premiere at the festival, the Lithuanian romance-drama is available to watch here, with Zabarauskas stating “We will persist and find our audience despite the new challenges.”

When a successful lawyer begins to notice the hollowness of his socialite existence, a mid-life crisis begins to head his way. But after meeting Ali, a bisexual Syrian refugee, at an online chatroom, Marius takes a sudden trip to Serbia. The polar-opposite pairing ignites unexpected passion, with Marius using Ali’s unfortunate circumstances to uncover his own sense of purpose. Despite Ali’s protestations that he is not a “victim”, Marius builds a case to have him migrate somewhere more accepting of the LGBTIQ+ community. But will the physical borders that set them worlds apart become too much?

Zabarauskas paints an intricately poignant picture of romance- from a practical perspective as well as an emotional one. The Lawyer takes its time telling the story, exposing the harsh inequalities that LGBTIQ+ refugees face with acute subtlety. But The Lawyer isn’t just bombarding us with political commentary; the main focus of the film remains on our two protagonists (whose own vices are never shied away from). There’s a realism to Zabarauskas film that only serves to strengthen the impact of his message. However, its tender details and glossy cinematography keeps a kind of softness intact, preventing The Lawyer from becoming solely allegorical.

The years of effort Zabarauskas put into his film is evident from its depth. The Lawyer is a very personal film, condensing the story primarily down to its two main characters and their relationship with each other (as well as with their own queer identities). Reaching for a higher-level of independent filmmaking, Zabarauskas makes a fine stand against prejudicial boundaries, tackling complex issues with confidence and simplicity. The Lawyer is included as part of the Hearts section of the BFI Flare festival, as it is the heart that’s at stake in Zabarauskas’s moving third feature.

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