In the torpid annals of queer cinema, Out in the Dark is something rare—a carefully written, sensitively acted film about a dangerous and highly forbidden love affair between Nimr, a Palestinian psychology student working on a graduate degree, and Roy, a privileged Israeli lawyer, who meet one night when Nimr parties late and misses his curfew. Apparently, they have gay bars in Tel Aviv. Polished, conscientious film directors, too. Michael Mayer is one of the best.
Already a huge hit on the international film festival circuit, Out in the Dark catalogs the heartbreaking hurdles that await people who cross the border between Israel and the West Bank to fall in love. Nimr has to dodge the Israeli security guards to reach Roy, but, once he’s accepted in a special class at the university, he visits the city once or twice per week, sometimes risking arrest to sleep over at Roy’s slick apartment and dine with his worldly, sophisticated friends. Their relationship intensifies until they both have to face decisions about how to spend their lives together after Nimr’s student visa expires. Torn between his feelings for his own country, where he is forced deep into the closet by law and forbidden to come out even to his own family and friends, and his newfound freedom in Israel, where he can be true to himself, Nimr hatches an escape plan with Roy’s legal advice. But things turn doubly precarious when his brother is placed in charge of hounding, exposing and killing gay Arabs hiding in Israel. The secret police blackmail him, offering an alternative: Either inform on fellow academics who collaborate with the Israeli government to stay in Tel Aviv, or face exposure, humiliation and deportation. In a society where nobility and honor are not necessarily virtues, Nimr is ejected from his own home and driven to seek refuge with Roy, whose own career is threatened. To prove his love, Roy makes a personal sacrifice, and the film ends on an element of irony that is deeply wrenching.
The point is that there is no hope if the heart is not free, and there are times when Mr. Mayer pushes his ideas forward with the force of a blunt instrument. Still, the performances are uniformly appealing, and the two leads—Nicholas Jacob as Nimr and Michael Aloni as Roy—are outstanding. Filmed in Hebrew and Arabic, Out in the Dark is not a political film, but, in the way it chronicles the clash of ideologies in the Middle East and proposes amnesty through love, it’s one of the most powerful films about the Arab-Israeli conflict that has ever been attempted on the screen.
OUT IN THE DARK
Written by: Michael Mayer
Directed by: Yael Shafrir and Michael Mayer
Starring: Nicholas Jacob, Michael Aloni and Jamil Khoury
Running time: 96 min.