The Israel-Palestine conflict has been ongoing for decades, affecting the lives of millions. Out in the Dark certainly isn’t the first film to address this conflict. But, now, director Michael Mayer (who co-wrote the script with Yael Shafrir) explores this conflict with a very personal perspective in Out in the Dark. Unfortunately—or maybe fortunately for Mayer—making this story more personal and character-driven makes the subject matter even more infuriating; it will get under your skin.
Nimr (Nicholas Jacob) is a Palestinian student taking a special class in Tel Aviv. One night after the class, he goes to a gay bar to see his drag queen friend Mustafa (Loai Nofi) perform. At the bar, he has a meet-cute with Israeli lawyer Roy (Michael Aloni). Despite their instant attraction to each other, Nimr knows that going any further with him would make things very complicated, so he does not pursue Roy.
Back at home, his family life is growing ever more tense. Nimr’s brother Nabil (Jamil Khoury) is engaging in illegal activity—namely storing up weapons in the garage—which infuriates Nimr. On top of that, he has to keep his homosexuality a deep secret from his brother, sister, and mother, fearing ostracization—which would only further complicate his partial visa access to Israel. All these complications make Nimr’s dreams of leaving this country and starting a new life somewhere more accepting all the more urgent.
Soon, though, Mustafa encourages Nimr to call up Roy, who has been asking about him. Nimr gives in, and it does not take long for them to fall deeply in love. Roy is so passionate about Nimr that he begins to use his father’s connections to obtain a full visa for Nimr to live in Israel. But as Israel’s security force begins to deeply investigate Nimr’s family, his entire life hangs in the balance.
At the center of this story is the romance between Nimr and Roy. Actors Nicholas Jacob and Michael Aloni have some pretty intense chemistry. From their very first interactions you can feel something powerful between them. Thanks to this perfect casting, the backbone of the film is solid, allowing the rest of the issues being presented to resonate even more deeply for the viewer.
The nationality conflict is one that American audiences should be familiar with (even if the political and religious issues aren’t as contentious). The harder Roy tries to get a visa for Nimr, the more we see how difficult it is for those seeking safety to make into a country that is completely mistrustful of them. There’s an underlying ruthlessness (from both sides of the border) that contributes largely to why this film is so infuriating.
The sexuality conflict is one that resonates with fewer viewers, but certainly will connect with the target audience. The more I saw how much Nimr had to deny his love for Roy to remain safe at home the more I grew thankful for how far gay rights have come in America. There is so much hate for gays, that you become almost fearful just watching the film. It becomes almost devastating when you realize that if he hadn’t met Roy, his life would not be in such danger—which also contributes to the infuriation at the film.
All these elements blend well together, complicating each other as they develop. The story unfolds very naturally and believably, making the race to the climax of the film all the more intense and frightening. Soon, what started as a Romeo & Juliet-like romance evolves into a tense thriller.
Out in the Dark is complicated and heart-wrenching. Fans of director Eytan Fox (Yossi & Jagger, The Bubble) will find familiar elements in this film. Mayer seemingly plays off our expectations from Fox’s films to make this film even more compelling. It will stick with you for awhile. And did I mention how infuriating it is (and I mean that in the best possible way)?
"Out in the Dark" opens September 27, 2013 and is not rated. Drama, Foreign. Directed by Michael Mayer. Written by Michael Mayer, Yael Shafrir. Starring Michael Aloni, Nicholas Jacob.