Review: Out in the Dark (2013)

Out in the Dark

Rating

Director
Michael Mayer
Screenplay
Michael Mayer, Yael Shafrir
Length
96 min.
Starring
Nicholas Jacob, Michael Aloni, Jameel Khoury, Alon Pdut, Loai Noufi, Khwalah Haj, Maysa Daw, Shimon Mimran, Majd Bitar, Alon Oleartchik, Cheli Goldenberg
MPAA Rating
Not Yet Rated

Buy on DVD/Blu-ray

Review
Queer Cinema has been developing its own voice for many years. While there are plenty of films that tackle important topics, their narrowly-tailored craftsmanship makes them unlikely to find viewership outside the gay demographic. As with most situations in film history, leave it to foreign filmmakers to take the genre in a direction that easily broadens the genre’s impact. Out in the Dark is a compelling, thought provoking look at the hazards faced by homosexuals in Israel and Palestine.

Nimr Mashrwawi (Nicholas Jacob) is a promising psychology student. His compassion towards others is quickly established and though he has the potential to become greatly successful, being a homosexual living in Palestine, his options are limited. Forced to hide his identity or face execution by devout Muslims, Nimr seeks refuge in a gay bar in Tel Aviv where he meets handsome junior lawyer Roy Schaefer (Michael Aloni).

After their love affair develops into lasting feelings, Nimr finds himself the target of a corrupt security specialist who uses Nimr’s homosexuality as a club to beat him into submission for fear of informing his unsuspecting family of his true nature. As Nimr strugglest to straddle the dangerous political underpinnings of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, his added burden of identity threatens to tear his emotional foundation apart and separate him not only from the family he loves, but also the man that he loves.

As Roy, Michael Aloni exemplifies the commonly-held belief in Israel that matters aren’t as bad as they seem and that influence peddling and strong convictions will win out over prejudice. Aloni’s performance is a perfect embodiment of the doubt and certitude of being gay in a place that is more tolerant and accepting than a region controlled by a more zealous religion. That he struggles to understand Nimr’s fear and uncertainty adds a complicated strain to their relationship.

This is mostly Nimr’s story and as such, Jacob does a brilliant job conveying the trepidation, internal conflict and hopefulness that accompanies those who have found a goal worth achieving and conduct their lives as perfectly as they can to avoid upsetting the balance. However, his more liberal views of the conflict between Israel and Palestine puts him at a disadvantage with his militant, pro-violence brother Mustafa (Loai Noufi) and ultimately leads to suspicion and ultimately betrayal when his secret is expectedly exposed. Jacob not only conveys the tenderness and skepticism of homosexuals in less advanced areas of the world, but embodies a fearful segment of gays in more developed countries where rabid anti-gay sentiment can still lead to harm.

You can transport this story to any nation in the world and find fascinating parallels with the struggles of homosexuals around the world. This problem isn’t just an Israeli or Palestinian problems. It’s a global problem exacerbated by rampant religious ideologies that declare it an abomination and threaten to root out the practitioners for their “crimes against nature.” Some nations are more violently ruthless against homosexuals, proposing death sentences and torture for those even suspected of being gay and while Israel is far from a radical country when it comes to homosexuality, Palestinian is closer in those beliefs to other Arab nations. This dichotomy adds an interesting political undercurrent to the film that’s emboldened by the parallel struggles between peace-wanting Israelis and Palestinians and their war-hungry fellow citizens.

Director For his directorial debut, Michael Mayer does a fantastic job maintining tension in the film in spite of somewhat obvious plot threads that virtually guarantee we know where the film is going. A late film twist keeps everything from going completely as suspected and the somber and hopeful final note adds depth to the narrative. Mayer and co-writer Yael Shafrir understand their subject matter as well as anyone in the gay community and infuse their work with the level of compassion and realism that is necessary to showcase the world’s tolerance and intolerance of gay issues.

Perhaps gay filmmakers in the U.S. are so focused on making their films sexy for their target audience that they seem to forget how to craft their films so that they can play well across multiple demographics. Out in the Dark, like Brokeback Mountain, does a terrific job expanding the potential influence of queer cinema beyond the toussled hair and chiseled good looks of the more loosely topical movies that came before and will come after. That isn’t to say that Out in the Dark doesn’t bring sexiness to the topic, but that aspect is of superficial unimportance in the grand scheme of the film’s emotionally satisfying narrative.

Oscar Prospects
Unlikelies: Everything
Review Written
October 22, 2013

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