BFI LLGFF Film Review: Out in the Dark
Los Angeles-based, Israeli director Michael Mayer’s feature debut Out in the Dark centres on the age old theme of forbidden love, set across the unforgiving divides of the Arab-Israeli conflict. At its core is a genuinely moving relationship drama, crossed with a tense thriller.
The film opens with Nimr, a Palestinian graduate student, frantically crossing the border into Tel Aviv, where he visits a gay bar. Here he meets Israeli lawyer, Roy, and embarks upon a dangerous liaison.
The chemistry between the two leads, Nicholas Jacob (Nimr) and Michael Aloni (Roy) is intense and evident from the outset. Through darky lit, sensual close-ups Mayer encapsulates the almost childlike innocence of their courtship and we share in their danger tinged longing as they gaze into each other’s eyes and clasp hands furtively while sirens boom and gun shots punctuate the air.
Delicately lit, shadowy night time scenes unfold as the pair of star crossed lovers’ relationship unfolds, with Mayer’s tight, digital camera work adding to a stifling sense of unease and impending doom. Yet, despite the aura of violence that characterises this piece, there are moments of great beauty. In a characteristically tender scene, the lovers clamber over a fence and then cling together in a swimming pool, recalling their early relationships, while searching for some way of understanding the war torn city that thwarts their growing feelings for one another.
The pressure builds steadily as Nimr is caught between his bigoted terrorist brother, Roy’s more liberal world and the Israeli authorities. When Nimr’s student visa is taken away and his brother arrested, the drama is transformed into the realms of a Bournesque action thriller, with frantic chases through the street as the pair struggle to not only find a way to be with one another, but to keep their lives.
While the last third of the film is undeniably gripping, the shift in action could have been handled better and there are, arguably, pacing issues where the drama at time flags. Yet despite this the narrative avoids slipping into cliché (easily done when ever illicit love is tackled) and moves convincingly towards a tantalisingly ambiguous denouement.
The casting of both Jacob (in his screen debut) and Aloni is perfect. Their impeccably timed, subtle performances overcome any shortcomings in dialogue, which is occasionally obvious and clunky, and are often extremely poignant. Jacob is particularly soulful and has a mesmerising screen presence.
Mayer’s achievement is to make a film that traverses the binaries of same-sex love and to present a story which is grounded in humanity. Yes, there are the familiar issues of family acceptance of homosexuality and societal prejudice, but ultimately, this is a tale about two people trying to negotiate a way to love one another against obstacles that many of us are fortunate to have never had to encounter. The film is all the stronger for this, eschewing the kind of self-indulgent fantasy that some festival films suffer from. This is an altogether more serious piece of work with an admirable social and political conscience. It takes gay filmmaking to a higher level and deserves a wider audience.
Words: Alex HopkinsJump to comments