Out in the Dark creates an atmospheric sense of tension that soaks into every scene.
Out in the Dark (SFJFF Review)
A raw and sensuous tale of forbidden love across a cavernous sociopolitical divide (the Israeli-Palestinian divide, to be exact), Out in the Dark is an impressive feature debut for director Michael Mayer, who studied film at USC. Nimr (Nicholas Jacob) is an intensely driven Palestinian psychology student who studies in Tel Aviv. He has dreams of continuing his education in America, where he can escape the lies, corruption, and hovering tension in his daily life. Roy (Michael Aloni) is a pretty boy lawyer (with a dash of bad boy) who works at his family firm in Tel Aviv. He’s somewhat complacent in his cushy position at the firm and handles the problems life throws his way by flexing his wallet and rolodex with cocksure calmness.
The film opens with Nimr sneaking into Tel Aviv late one night to have some fun at a gay bar. Mayer and DP Ran Aviad are telling a nocturnal story here, with most of the film (or at least the most memorable moments) playing out in the inky, gritty later hours. Nimr arrives at the bar and locks eyes with bad boy Roy. The attraction is immediate and electric (the actors are so handsome it’s hard to imagine how they couldn’t gravitate to one other.) They form a bond almost instantly—in a wonderful sequence, they share a chuckle after they chase two cowardly homophobes down the street, threatening to kick their asses (bromance to the max.) They exchange info before Nimr sneaks back to Palestine, neither of them realizing how dangerously disrupted their lives are about to become.
Because Nimr calls Palestine home, he’s harshly scrutinized by the Israeli authorities and shunned for his nationality when in Tel Aviv. He’s got a courageous soul, so he doesn’t let the hostile environment stop him from pursuing his academic goals or Roy, for that matter. Still, stretching romance across such a volatile divide, all the while keeping his sexuality secret from his family, is a burden perhaps unbearable by even the strong-willed.
Mustafa, an outgoing drag queen and Nimr’s friend from back home (played by Loai Noufi, bursting with vigor and sass) is delighted by the sight of the new couple, giddily egging them on every minute. Tragically, Mustafa becomes a sobering example of how high the stakes are in the inescapable conflict that surrounds them. Nimr’s older brother, Nabil, a bull of a man who—despite the impassioned objections of his younger brother—has involved their family in the conflict on a serious level (he’s stashed a cache of guns and ammunition in their home.) The relationship between the brothers is viciously combative, and yet there is a sense that despite the clash of values and ideals, they care for each other deep down and, had they not grown up in such a tumultuous environment, they might have actually gotten along. Yet another tragedy to add to the stack.
Roy, whose affluent playboy lifestyle has instilled in him a naïve sense of adolescent invincibility, uses questionable contacts to dig Nimr out of some deep trouble with the Israeli government and even puts his own ass on the line in the name of love (in a well crafted but terribly shallow foot-chase climax.) He’s a reckless but endearingly noble beau.
Mayer is a storyteller of taste—he never highlights that it’s a gay romance, aside from examining the challenges of being in one in a society so rooted in tradition. Jacob and Aloni’s scenes together are tender and convincing, which is impressive considering this is Jacob’s debut. Out in the Dark creates an atmospheric sense of tension that soaks into every scene, but what’s slightly lacking here are surprises. Almost every reaction I had to the film felt overly familiar, and while the film engrossing, it never threw me a left hook. Despite all this, Out in the Dark is executed and crafted very well, and that counts for a lot in my book.