Love, Forbidden and Persecuted
“I don’t care about the Jews, the Palestinians, Fatah or Hamas,” Nimr (Nicholas Jacob), a closeted gay Palestinian, declares to his thuggish older brother, Nabil (Jameel Khouri), in “Out in the Dark.”
He’d better care, because those defiant words will come back to haunt him. A psychology student who secures a temporary academic permit enabling him to travel between Ramallah, in the West Bank, and Tel Aviv, Nimr has a bright future.
Not the least of the obstacles he faces is his homosexuality, which if discovered by his family would bring disgrace and exile. His circumstances become more perilous when he falls in love with Roy (Michael Aloni), a handsome, well-to-do Israeli lawyer he meets in a bar.
Roy works at his politically connected father’s law firm. Although Roy is out to his family, their acceptance is grudging. When he brings home his Palestinian boyfriend, it is all they can do to be polite.
The movie, much of it shot in semidarkness, portrays the Middle East as a hotbed of paranoia, where everyone is looking over a shoulder, and a secret is hard to keep. Especially when cultural boundaries are breached, it is virtually impossible to separate the political from the personal.
You might describe “Out in the Dark,” the feature directorial debut of the Israeli filmmaker Michael Mayer, who wrote the screenplay with Yael Shafrir, as a modern variation of Shakespeare: “Romeo and Romeo,” but with a different ending. Although Roy and Nimr’s affair is conducted discreetly, it becomes everybody’s business once Israeli security officials discover a cache of weapons that Nabil, an anti-Israeli militant has stockpiled in the basement of the family home.
“Out in the Dark” tries not to take sides, and the Israeli security operatives come off as unscrupulous and bullying. They are not half as scary as Nabil and his band of incipient terrorists. One of the first targets of Nabil’s group is Mustafa (Loai Noufi), a Palestinian drag performer and friend of Nimr’s who has been secretly living in Tel Aviv. Seized as a suspected spy, he is brutally murdered.
The weapons cache is discovered shortly after Nabil learns of Nimr’s homosexuality through a photo someone has shown him. He immediately tells the rest of the family, and Nimr is thrown out of the house and told never again to show his face. He has nowhere to go but to Roy’s. By then the security force knows about their relationship, and Roy’s reputation is at risk of being tainted.
For all the tenderness and passion on display, the relationship of the lovers at the heart of the movie is too young to seem solid. Roy is the prettier but less likable of the two. Until he makes a sudden, unconvincing gesture of nobility, he registers as a spoiled brat who imagines that his father’s connections can solve any problem.
Nimr’s neglecting to tell Roy about his brother is a serious lapse of judgment by someone who should know better. Even though the plot defies credibility at several points, “Out in the Dark” is gripping, and Nimr’s tearful exile from his family breaks your heart. As outside forces threaten to destroy the affair, you may think of Humphrey Bogart’s famous observation in “Casablanca” that “the problems of three little people don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world.” Nimr and Roy are two little people playing with matches in a tinderbox.
Directed by Michael Mayer; written by Yael Shafrir and Mr. Mayer; director of photography, Ran Aviad; edited by Maria Gonzales; music by Mark Holden and Michael Lopez; production design by Sharon Eagle; costumes by Hamada Atallah; produced by Lihu Roter and Mr. Mayer; released by Breaking Glass Pictures. In Manhattan at the Cinema Village, 22 East 12th Street, Greenwich Village. In Hebrew and Arabic, with English subtitles. Running time: 1 hour 36 minutes. This film is not rated.
WITH: Nicholas Jacob (Nimr Mashrawi), Michael Aloni (Roy Schaefer), Jameel Khouri (Nabil Mashrawi), Alon Pdut (Gil) and Loai Noufi (Mustafa N’amna).