September 5, 2020
by Carla Hay
Directed by Romas Zabarauskas
Some language in Lithuanian with subtitles
Culture Representation: Taking place in Lithuania and Serbia, the drama “The Lawyer” features a mostly white European cast (with a few Middle Eastern people) representing the middle-class and wealthy.
Culture Clash: An openly gay lawyer, who falls for a male webcam model, finds out that his new love interest is a Syrian refugee in Serbia, and the lawyer tries to get him asylum in another country.
Culture Audience: “The Lawyer” will appeal primarily to people who like stylishly made independent dramas with realistic scenarios and storylines about the LGBTQ community and immigration issues.
LGBTQ rights and immigration issues collide in the drama “The Lawyer,” a quietly effective drama that shines a light on how the sexuality of LGBTQ war refugees might affect their immigration status. Written, directed and produced by Romas Zabarauskas, “The Lawyer” takes its time (the first third of the film) to get to the heart of the story, which is viewed from the perspective of a protagonist named Marius (played by Eimutis Kvoščiauskas), an openly gay Lithuanian attorney in his 40s who lives alone but he has an active social life.
It’s shown in the beginning of the film that Marius (who lives and works as a corporate attorney in the Lithuanian capital of Vilnius) has a reassuring way with people where he likes to help solve their problems. The opening scene is of Marius at his law office, calming down a demanding socialite friend of his named Darya Ivanova (played by Darya Ekamasova), who has stormed into the office because she’s upset that a gossip website has made a less-than-flattering remark about an outfit that she wore to an event.
Darya had worn a shirt with a large print of the insignia that was on the flag of former Soviet Union. The website’s published a photo of Darya in the outfit, with the headline: “Darya Ivanova’s Shocking Out: Nostalgia for the Soviet Occupation?” Darya is so offended that she wants to sue the website and she’s already been browbeating an unwitting receptionist at Marius’ law firm to get someone at the law firm to do something about this “problem.”
Even though Marius reminds Daria that his law firm does corporate law and wouldn’t be able to take the case, he tells her he’ll see what he can do. “How can we refuse to work with Madame Darya?” he tells her. Darya thanks him effusively and leaves before she can further berate any more employees. Marius’ ability to diffuse the situation is the first indication that Marius likes to see himself as a “fixer” of people’s problems. And this personality trait explains much of what he does later in the movie.
Marius, who is single and doesn’t have any children, has a circle of friends in the LGBTQ community. During a house party dinner with some of these friends, it’s revealed that Marius has a reputation for being promiscuous, although he insists that he would be in a serious, monogamous relationship if he could find true love. Marius laments, “I’m an old poof in homophobic Lithuania.”
At this dinner, Marius has been somewhat set up on a blind date with a bisexual transgender man named Pranas (played by Danilas Pavilionis), who works as a sculptor. After the dinner, when Marius and Pranas are alone together, they talk some more and find out they’re not very compatible. Pranas (who’s about 15 to 20 years younger than Marius) calls Marius a “privileged corporate lawyer.” When Marius asks Pranas if he would make a sculpture of Marius if Marius commissioned it, Pranas replies that Marius wouldn’t have the money for it. Oh, snap. That’s the end of that date.
Marius’ attorney salary has given him a very comfortable upscale life (and the sleekly modern apartment to prove it), but he’s not as wealthy as his friend Darya. As for his love life, Marius’ promiscuity is hinted at in the movie, but it’s not really shown, except for later in the story when he randomly picks up a guy. It’s hinted that Marius can have a tendency to be self-absorbed. When he talks to his friends who set him up on the blind date with Pranas, they are dismayed to find out that that Marius didn’t recognize Pranas, who was featured in a LGBTQ “coming out” public service announcement that was co-sponsored by Marius’ law firm.
Marius and Paranas didn’t have a love connection, perhaps because Marius’ attention has been on his favorite webcam model, a handsome man who calls himself Ron. After some mutual flirting through their webcam chats, Marius persuades the model to give him his personal phone number, which is against the rules.
Marius and the model continue their conversations privately, and the model reveals that his real name is Ali (played by Doğaç Yildiz), and that he’s a Syrian refugee living in Belgrade, Serbia. Ali also tells Marius that he’s gotten suspended from the webcam service because another use reported him for giving out his personal phone number to a customer.
Meanwhile, Marius gets his own bad news: His mother calls to tell him that his father has died. When he goes back to his hometown to attend the funeral, his mother (played by Neringa Bulotaitė) tells Marius that Marius’ father was sorry for the way things went. It’s not stated outright, but it’s implied that Marius and his father were estranged at the time of his death, but it’s not stated why they were estranged. Marius’ earlier comment about Lithuania being “homophobic” certainly suggests that he’s experienced bigotry or hatred about his sexuality, perhaps from his father. The movie doesn’t go into details about how long Marius has been openly gay.
A turning point in Marius and Ali’s relationship happens when Marius tells Ali about his father’s death, and Ali comforts him in a very compassionate and sincere way. It’s the first sign that they will have more than a superficial online relationship because there’s an unspoken bond they now share over grief and loss. Marius decides to visit Ali in Serbia, where Marius will be for a week.
Marius and Ali’s first date is very casual: They go jogging. Ali doesn’t want them to become lovers right away, but Marius reminds him that he’s only going to be in Serbia for a week. Ali opens up a little more about his refugee situation and he insists that he doesn’t want to be thought of as a victim. “You’re too handsome to be a victim,” Marius tells Ali. Ali responds, “You’re too handsome to be a lawyer.” Yes, it’s that kind of movie with corny romantic dialogue.
However, since Marius is an attorney, Ali asks Marius if there is any way that Marius can help. Marius tells Ali that he’s a corporate attorney and doesn’t know anything about immigration law Marius is also hurt because he thinks that Ali isn’t interested in dating him and just wanted to use him for his legal services. They agree that perhaps there was a misunderstanding and they should part ways.
But since Marius has a “savior” complex, he changes his mind and tracks down Ali at the refugee camp in Krnjaca, where Ali lives. Ali is very surprised and somewhat embarrassed to see Marius there, but he agrees to accept Marius’ help. Marius insist that Ali spent the rest of the week with him at Marius’ hotel. Ali tells Marius that he’s bisexual and that he’s not fully “out of the closet” yet.
At first Marius tries to keep things platonic, but one thing leads to another and they become lovers. Ali, who is originally from the Syrian capital of Damascus, tells Marius about some painful losses he’s experienced because of the Syrian war. Ali says he wants to move to another country, but he doesn’t want to be openly identify as a member of the LGBTQ community, which would give him a better chance of being out in a “protected” status with immigration. Ali also says he hasn’t been the victim of a homophobic hate crime, so that makes it even more difficult for him to apply for refugee status.
What happens to Ali and Marius and their new romance is shown in the rest of the movie, which takes great care to depict this love story in a touching and sometimes humorous way. Viewers will want to root for this couple as they navigate the complications of international law and immigrant refugee policies. One of the biggest obstacles to Ali and Marius living together is that Lithuania does not have an immigration policy for Syrian refugees that is as open and friendly as other countries’ policies. And Marius has no intention of moving to Serbia, since Ali doesn’t want to stay in Serbia either.
“The Lawyer” writer/director/producer Zabarauskas made the right decision to have the story told from Marius’ point of view because Marius represents the “privileged blind spot” that many people have when they hear about war refugees but don’t really think much about refugees until a refugee problem affects them directly. The people who are most likely to watch “The Lawyer” are those who probably have this “privileged blind spot” too, and it might make these viewers think of the fallout of the Syrian war in more human terms.
The movie’s stylish cinematography (by Narvydas Naujalis) plays with color palettes in a meaningful way. When Marius is feeling lust or love, he’s shaded in red. The morning after Ali and Marius become lovers, they wake up in their hotel in a scene that is shot in black and white, recalling the romance of old European movies.
Where “The Lawyer” falls a little short at times is in its writing and acting. The dialogue can be a bit hokey. For example, in the scene where Ali asks Marius for help with his immigration status, Marius tells Ali: “You may be Cinderella, but I’m no Prince Charming.” The spoiled socialite character of Darya is also unnecessary to the story, although there’s a scene in her art gallery that’s visually compelling because of the oversized photos on the walls and how they are filmed.
Kvoščiauskas can be a little wooden as an actor. But to be fair, his stiff demeanor could also be interpreted as Marius being somewhat closed off from his emotions until he falls for Ali. Yildiz has a more natural, more believable style to his acting. The movie definitely gets better in the second half, when Marius and Ali’s relationship starts to develop.
Although the movie’s screenwriting and acting have minor flaws, “The Lawyer” is worth watching for the overall story. The emotions of the characters are depicted in an authentic way. And the movie makes an unforgettable point of showing how the negative effects of a war reach far beyond the borders of the country at war.
TLA Releasing released “The Lawyer” on DVD on August 18, 2020. Dekkoo premiered the movie on August 20, 2020.