An accomplished first feature from Israeli director-screenwriter Michael Mayer, 2012's Out in the Dark finds a novel way of dealing with the ages-old conflict in the Middle East, with a tumultuous love story between two young men on opposite sides - one Palestine, the other Israeli. Breaking Glass Pictures' nice DVD edition of the film will hopefully bring it to the attentions of a wider, appreciative audience.
Even though it has a contemporary setting, there's a pronounced Brokeback Mountain feel to Out in the Dark. The two actors playing the leads share an understated sweetness and genuine chemistry between them, and the tense story is treated with a neutrality that nevertheless winds up being gritty and absorbing. Actor Nicholas Jacob delivers a sensitive performance as the Palestine character, Nimr, a student who must travel incognito from his home base in Ramallah to Tel Aviv to study. At one of the city's gay bars, he awaits meeting up with his flamboyant friend Mustafa (Loai Nofi), one of the out Palestinians who must remain in hiding in Tel Aviv. A fellow bar patron, Roy (Michael Aloni), chats up Nimr and the two immediately click. The flirtation turns into a hot affair, one that develops into a tender, mutually supportive relationship (despite their differences in ethnicity and social standing). Unlike the closeted Nimr, Jewish Roy is completely out to his family in Israel and making a decent living working at his father's prestigious law firm.
Out in the Dark depicts Nimr and Roy's coupling with a disarming honesty. More importantly, the film shows the consequences of their relationship with an unflinching clarity - it doesn't shy away from what gay men have to endure in one of the world's most culturally oppressive regions. This is especially so when Nimr witnesses the brutal beating and murder of his out and proud friend, Mustafa - after the persecuted man got dumped back in Ramallah by the Israeli police. Later on, the Israeli authorities catch up with Nimr, threatening to expose his secret in order to get information on Nimr's arms-dealing brother, Nabil (Jamil Khoury). All the things that Nimr and Roy seek - security and a safe place to live - become further out of reach as these brutal forces close in on them.
Breaking out of the box of most gay flicks, Out in the Dark mixes understated, sensitively done drama with political intrigue quite well. Director Michael Mayer conveys this story with immediacy and dreamlike lyricism, using lots of handheld photography, natural lighting, shallow depth of field, lens flare, and atmospheric use of nighttime city locales. If there's one flaw here, it's that Roy and Nimr's story lacks a proper sense of closure. While I'm no fan of pat endings, this film did have a the distinct feel of concluding a few scenes too early. Perhaps that's a result of how well-written the script was, or the great job the actors did of making their characters believable, but I left this feeling somewhat dissatisfied. Despite that, it's still a potent and worthwhile watch.
Breaking Glass Pictures' DVD edition of Out in the Dark sports some good, above average mastering that brings out the detail in the photography. Although pleasant enough when it comes to the color intensity and shading, the 16:9 widescreen picture looks too milky in the darker scenes.
The film's Hebrew and Arabic language soundtrack is supplied here in a simple stereo mix which doesn't particularly astound, yet sports clear dialogue and subtly integrated music. Optional English subtitles are supplied, in a font so big that the letters sometimes get clipped on the sides.
The disc comes with a few worthwhile supplements - Interviews with actors Nicholas Jacob and Michael Aloni and director-screenwriter Michael Mayer have them discussing the challenges of making the film and (for the actors) getting into character. There's also a selection of Deleted Scenes, which as usual don't add to much to the film yet provide a few interesting bits of background info. A Photo Gallery and Trailers for this and other Breaking Glass releases round out the bonus content.
It isn't too often that one finds a gay film with a broad-based appeal; acclaimed 2012 feature Out in the Dark is one such project. The cost of same-sex relationships in oppressed cultures gets a thorough going-through with this intense, realistic look at the deepening bond between a Palestine college student and an Israeli lawyer. Recommended.
Matt Hinrichs is a designer, artist, film critic and dilettante-of-all-trades in Phoenix, Arizona. 4 Color Cowboy is his repository of Western-kitsch imagery, while other films he's seen are logged at Letterboxd. He also welcomes friends on Twitter @4colorcowboy.