By Ron Merk
Made by first-time director, Michael Mayer, this romance and political thriller, crosses many borders to bring us the complicated story of two gay men. One is Palestinian and the other Israel, Nimr and Roy, who meet and find an intense personal connection at a gay bar in Tel Aviv. But that is just the very tip of the intensity iceberg.
Every step they take is followed by someone, and every moment they remain together becomes more dangerous for both of them, especially for Nimr. He is caught in the net of the Israeli security department by an especially cruel agent, and asked to spy on his brother who’s moving weapons to freedom fighters (terrorists to the Israelis). The agent threatens to expose Nimr’s gay life to his family. As Nimr watches, the brother shoots a gay man that Nimr knew in Tel Aviv because he’s thought to be a spy for Israel, and a “gay whore.” When one of the killers looks at the dead man’s phone, he sees a photo of Nimr at a gay bar, and the family throws Nimr out. He sneaks across the border back to Israel, and goes to his lover’s apartment, but the security forces are looking for Nimr. The noose tightens and he flees into the night after having an argument with Roy.
The film perfectly demonstrates Nimr’s walking a tightrope between love and death, and how easily it is to lose his balance, and how many traps have been set that make it impossible to remain in Israel or Palestine. It is a perfect hell from which there appears to be no escape, a real metaphor for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict for which no resolution seems in sight, at least not in the near future.
The casting of the film is really the secret to its cohesiveness and dramatic effect. Director Mayer is clearly in charge, but he makes the same mistakes that most first-time directors make today, mostly in his choice of photographic style. The first five minutes of the film made me sea sick because of all the camera movement, and hardly any of it was in sharp focus, the result of low (or no) light photography and bumpy follow shots of someone in a car. The film would have benefitted from more traditional photography in this writer’s opinion. Call me old-fashioned, but I like to see the characters’ eyes so that I can see what they’re feeling or thinking. This modern style of no lighting makes me crazy as a viewer, and I think most of us feel cheated when we can’t see what we’re looking at.
But the script is solid, and the actors do a great job under Mayer’s direction. I especially liked the actors who played Nimr and Roy, Nicholas Jacob and Michael Aloni, the former really shining in this part. Jameel Khouri as Nimr’s brother, Khawlah Haj as his mother, Maysa Daw as his sister and Alon Pudt as Israeli security chief are all extremely effective and believable. The film ends on a note that I felt was a bit too ambiguous,with the fate of the two lovers left out at sea, so to speak. Out in the Dark is an important film on the subject of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and it’s more than about than the protagonists being gay. This is a human story, humans who are not feeling the lightness of just being and living their lives in peace. Out in the Dark is a compelling drama, one that deserves to be seen by a wide audience, not matter what their sexuality or politics.