“You can’t get help from a lawyer when the only things that work aren’t legal.”

When I was approached to review “The Lawyer”, aka “Advokatas”, TLA Releasing’s most recently acquired film by Dekkoo Films, I was intrigued. The plot caught my attention; the trailer was stunningly beautiful while hinting at something a bit dark and mysterious – I wanted to know more. With this film being reported as the first feature film from the Baltic countries featuring male homosexual love, it had some large shoes to try and fill. Unfortunately, while the film itself was stunning and has some incredibly tender moments, I was left hanging in the end. I still wanted more.

Still from "The Lawyer" - Ali sits on a hotel bed, lit from the bedlamp with a red neon sign peaking through the curtains

Synopsis of “The Lawyer”

Marius (Eimutis Kvosciauskas) is a gay lawyer in Lithuania. He is well off financially, banters with a few close gay friends, but despite chasing younger me, it’s clear that Marius is lonely. Marius tries to fill this void with online sex workers, coming across the very attractive Syrian refugee, Ali (Dogac Yildiz), in Belgrade. When his estranged father suddenly dies, this loneliness deepens and an unanticipated connection develops with Ali as they chat online across the distance. Suddenly spurned into life and happiness, Marius jets off to Belgrade to finally meet Ali and see if their connection can survive in the real world.

But while the bliss seems to be wonderful upon arrival and first glance, there’s something a bit reserved about Ali. He finally reveals that he is not gay – but rather bisexual, and still very in the closet. And Ali is trying to escape Belgrade, hoping to head further into Europe where he could have a better life. Almost like a fly drawn into a spider’s web, Marius wants to help Ali escape. Ali seems to have a similar mindset, having landed the interest of a lawyer – but they hit a snag because Marius is a corporate lawyer and is uncertain how he could even help. Furthermore, Ali seems to only want to escape and is not quite as interested in the relationship Marius was hoping for.

Yet something spurs Marius onward to try and help. He tries reaching out to the refugee aide centres, only to find out that there is absolutely no assistance for LGBT refugees in Belgrade. Even when he is finally directed to the UN’s refugee office, even a subtle bride for assistance falls through. Just as things seem to be falling apart and their goodby is eminent, Ali begins to loosen up and actually allows whatever is growing between he and Marius to blossom into something special. In a surprise twist, they find a not-so-legal route that has the chance for Marius and Ali to escape together with hope and potential for the future.

Still from "The Lawyer" - Marius & Ali sit together alongside the river, with a suspension bridge in the background

The Good

“The Lawyer” is visually stunning and breathtaking! Within the plot hides series of moments. Snapshots of perfection swimming with vivid colour hues, contrasting textures of modern and industrial life, and more. It feels like an art film at times, leaving the storyline behind to just live in that moment and capture the artistic way the shot is framed. The soundtrack is an odd balance of hauntingly somber music during the low points, contrasted with a jazzy beat now and then.

In between those moments of art, there are some tender moments of the plot itself. Writer/Director Romas Zabarauskas weaves an interesting story in “The Lawyer” that delves into the loneliness gay men can face even amid good friends and hookups, and how it’s not uncommon to try and find attention online. But the twist is that this is not just anywhere, nor anyone online. We are in Lithuania, where being gay is not as acceptable as in other Western countries; our online fantasy is equally a Syrian refugee now living in Belgrade. The set up creates an interesting situation to not only tell a love story, but to comment on the difficulties and realities of LGBT refugees in Eastern Europe.

The Not-So-Good

Unfortunately, as great of a setup with the plot and including the incredible cinematography, the end result just doesn’t pull together to create polished film. Don’t get me wrong – “The Lawyer” is a great film and certainly worth watching! But I can’t ignore a couple key problems.

While the central plot is fascinating, with a bit of intrigue, drama, and even that dash of romance, the side plots are almost unnecessary or are not incorporated sufficiently. While it’s clear the death of Marius’ estranged father sends him into a downward spiral, we spend only a brief moment with his mother and barely glimpse his family. Equally, I felt like all of the side plot with Darya (Darya Ekamasova) was not entirely needed and took time away from developing the key story between Marius and Ali While I was actually pleased to see the inclusion of Pranas (Danilas Pavilionis)‘ trans story, it initially felt like a crutch; being thrown in just to add another queer element. Thankfully, I was proven wrong and the heartfelt coming out story helped motivate Marius to try and help Ali. But even though it was worked in, was it actually needed?

There is something that kept bugging me about the casting. Eimutis Kvosciauskas is quite a talented actor, apparently known more for comedy than dramatic roles. As Marius, we can relate to the initial loneliness, smile when he’s with Ali, and even feel lost in wanting to help Ali get out of Belgrade but trapped and unable to do anything to actually help. Dogac Yildiz is equally talented as Ali, and easy on the eyes! He plays a the role with a certain mysterious intrigue, we know there is something he is not saying and it takes feeling comfortable before we discover all his secrets. But together – they actually did not have the greatest chemistry on screen. There were moments when it felt like they were too cold and not connecting, yet in other moments they fit together like a perfect puzzle. It wasn’t necessarily bad – but I can’t justify granting a whole star for the acting chemistry.

The last issue I had with “The Lawyer” was the pace and tempo. There were a few jumps in the plot that felt disjointed. I missed something between after Marius’ father died and he reached out to Ari, and the seemingly sudden decision to go to Belgrade and meet in person. Equally, “The Lawyer” is a very SLOW film; it takes a good while to build up. Part of me wants to think this was intentional – tying into the artistic nature where they just linger on stunningly framed shots. But at the same time, I wanted to skip ahead to continue the story. It was odd sensation because it tried to balance itself out, and occasionally worked; other times it did not. The best example was the very last scene; I kept waiting for the credits to start rolling and it took what felt like forever, but just beforehand there was a heartfelt and joyous moment that was worth the wait.

Still from "The Lawyer" - Ali & Marius ride in the back of a taxi cab together

I truly wanted to enjoy Romas Zabarauskas’ “The Lawyer”.  The plot reminded me of another cross culture queer love story, while providing a hint of intrigue and mystery. And while it is a visually stunning film, with some tender and beautiful moments, I was left wanting more. It’s still a great film, definitely worth watching! With a bit more finessing and refining, “The Lawyer” could have been even better. It’s clear that Zabarauskas’ has talent – I look forward to his next film!

Queer Relevance of “The Lawyer”

“The Lawyer” packs a couple key and interesting relevant queer topics. First off, it’s an incredible achievement for Lithuanian and out film maker, Romas Zabarauskas, to bring his vision to life. Lithuania is not very queer friendly – it’s improving and no longer illegal to be gay; but he had to overcome many hurdles to get this film produced. Tying into that is a subtle commentary on Lithuania’s queer community.

The other key facet is Ali’s part of the story: a bisexual / queer Syrian refugee stuck in Belgrade. Not only is this a topic rarely discussed in queer film, but it’s an area that many are unfamiliar with – partly because in many countries, such as Belgrade, there are NO protections for LBGT refugees. Not only are these refugees trying to escape the strife of their home country, they face challenging situations even in other countries simply because of their sexuality. It’s quite fascinating how “The Lawyer” tactfully deals with this topic.

Lastly, and though it seems like a minor and almost unnecessary plot, we have a bit of a glimpse into the difficulties of being Trans in Lithuania and similar countries. In fact, the lead character initially displays some issues though later on it feels like he comes to relate with the struggle, realising how he might be able to make a difference. In all, there’s no doubt that despite facing potential censorship and having to play it safe on things, “The Lawyer” is quite a breakthrough film for Lithuanian and queer cinema.