When I’m reviewing gay-themed films, I sometimes feel I’m using the word ‘forgive’ too much. With many of these films you can see there’s a lot that’s good about them, but you have to forgive the acting, the low-budget (and resulting picture or sound issues), the shaky direction or slightly unfinished script. It’s always great then when you find a gay-themed film that’s just a good movie, and Out In The Dark certainly fits in that category.
Nimr (Nicholas Jacob) is a young Palestinian student who illegally sneaks out of Ramallah to go to a gay club in Tel Aviv. There he meets Jewish lawyer Roy (Michael Aloni). The two have a spark, but with Nimr coming from the other side of the Israeli-Palestinian divide, he’s not sure whether they should have any sort of relationship. However they eventually begin to see one another, helped by the fact Nimr gets a pass allowing him to legally enter Tel Aviv to go to university.
While Nimr and Roy fall deeply in love, the world around them is determined to make things difficult. Nimr’s family is deeply homophobic and so he has to hide this side of himself, especially from his older brother, who has become involved with violent Palestinian militants. Quite how dangerous this is comes home to Nimr when the Israeli security forces deport a gay man living in Tel Aviv back to Ramallah. The man is almost immediately rounded up and killed by the Palestinian militants, both for being a possible collaborator and for being gay (which get mixed up together as being gay immediately make someone vulnerable to being blackmailed into collaboration so their secret isn’t revealed to their family).
It’s not just tough on the Palestinian side, as Roy’s parents are ambivalent about their son dating an Arab, while the security forces begin to see Nimr as somebody they can use, irrespective of the fact the young man just wants to study and be with Roy. As increasing pressure is heaped on Nimr from both sides of the divide, it’s not just his relationship with Roy that comes under threat, but his life.
Out In The Dark handles itself extremely well, creating a wonderful sense of romance and intimacy between Roy and Nimr, which ensures you’re pulled into in their romance. It sets up a scenario where neither of them really cares about the other’s background, sometimes to the point of naiveté, even if everyone around them cares an awful lot.
There were moments during the film when I really wished I knew more about how the Israeli-Palestinian divide works, as the film doesn’t spend too much time explaining it (I know the basics of the conflict, but not how it actually works on the ground for those living between the two territories). You can work out what’s going on, but it would have been nice if I’d known more going in – the film does a good job of making you want to find out though, as well as discovering more about the plight of gay Palestinians, which can be incredibly dire.
Out In The Dark is also one of those interesting Israeli films where you can see why some might think it was too pro-Palestinian, while others would accuse it of being too pro-Israeli, depending of what side they’re already on. The reason for that is the film is generally unimpressed with either side, both of which are presented as being determined to do things that will ensure continued hostility. The Palestinian militants and the Israeli security forces are also shown to have little regard for normal people, who merely become about how they can be used, not about their desire to live their lives as they wish.
Along with the romance, Out In The Dark builds a great sense of tension as Nimr’s situation becomes ever more drastic and Roy increasingly realises both how different and difficult his lover’s life actually is.
The film is a moving romance and an effective thriller, which successfully negotiates gay issues without feeling like the fact the main characters are gay is the only important thing. And like the best films about difficult political situations, it remembers that the real story is often people trying to live their lives and find happiness in a place that’s determined to make it impossible.
Overall Verdict: A moving gay romance, successful thriller and an effective exploration of the Israeli-Palestinian divide, particularly how difficult it can be for gay Arabs. Out In The Dark is not just a good gay-themed film, it’s a good film full-stop.
Reviewer: Tim Isaac