Out in the Dark
Dramas about lovers kept apart by political imbroglios are nothing new. Dramas about lovers kept apart by political imbroglios where both are men, with one a West Bank Palestinian and the other an Israeli does put an intriguing spin on things. Unfortunately "Out in the Dark," a first feature by Michael Mayer, falls short of making the best use of potentially compelling situations.
Nimr (Nicholas Jacob) crosses from the West Bank into Tel Aviv for school and covert visits with his friends in gay clubs. He’s not out to his adoring mother, bratty sister, or brooding brother Nabil (Jameel Khouri) who disapproves of even visiting Israel.
One night he meets and is smitten by Roy (Michael Aloni), a successful, out Jewish attorney but, like Cinderella at a grim ball, he must return to Palestine by curfew time before he can explore the potential further.
The film provides an eye-opening look into the everyday lives and hazards of gay men - no L, B, or T folks are present - dealing with the juxtaposition of two conflicting cultures, one intensely homophobic and repressive, the other more accepting, in countries who are also in longstanding political opposition.
The script, co-written by Mayer and Yael Shafrir, tries to cover too much ground. First it’s a love story, infused with coming out family crises on one side and a quaint "Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner" sequence on the other. It also strives to be a political thriller, with elements of torture and manipulation (the threat of being outed is used in a very Cold War espionage style) propping up a Middle East insurgency sub-plot. That Nabil is up to no good is telegraphed from the beginning. Finally, it is a low-level action film with leading characters escaping evildoers and racing to freedom, making sacrifices along the way.
It’s a dark film, and not only in subject matter. Cinematographer Ran Aviad has chosen an extremely muted, grainy palette that leaves much of the film muddy and difficult to follow. The dialogue is all in Hebrew and Arabic, with choppy, poorly rendered sub-titles that also distances the viewer.
Jacob and Aloni make an attractive couple, and the actors turn in credible performances. Aloni is particularly effective in the sequences where he must finally compromise his values for the sake of his relationship. Among the supporting cast, Loai Nofi shapes a sympathetic portrait as Mustafa, Nimr’s "lamb to slaughter" best friend; and Khawlah Hag-Debsy makes poignant display of the choice between culture and family and Nimr’s once-doting mother.
Despite it’s potential, "Out in the Dark" ultimately disappoints with its overcrowded agenda and dark aesthetic that makes it difficult to stay engaged in the characters. Viewers for whom the material sits closer to home may have a more positive response.