A Palestinian psychology student meets an Israeli lawyer at a nightclub in Tel Aviv and the two quickly fall in love with each other.
While that alone could generate enough drama for fuel any gay film, Out in the Dark drops this love story into a sociopolitical firestorm that complicates matters even further.
Out in the Dark stars Nicholas Jacob as psychology student Nimr Mashrawi and Michael Aloni as lawyer Roy Schaffer. Nimr is taking a special class in Tel Aviv and his studies there serve as a great cover for his relationship with Roy, which has to be kept a secret from both his family and everyone in his hometown of Ramallah – and for good reason as Nimr’s domineering brother Nabil (Jamil Khoury) is involved in a terrorist cell that extradites gay Palestinians living illegally in the more tolerant Tel Aviv and kills them.
Beyond a questionable stockpile of guns that Nabil refuses to explain, Nimr knows nothing about his brother’s activities until he witnesses the brutal murder of his friend Mustafa at the hands of Nabil’s team. Israeli authorities, however, have Nabil on their radar and revoke Nimr’s permit to study in Tel Aviv and threaten to expose him as a homosexual to his family as a means of extracting information from him about his brother’s activities.
While Nimr reluctantly considers this, Roy sets out to find a way to secure a permanent permit for Nimr so that the two of them can stay together. This proves far more difficult given the fact that his Nimr’s case was being handled by Security Services.
Meanwhile, a member of Nabil’s team discovers Nimr’s secret from a photo with him in the background taken the night he met Roy at the nightclub on the phone of another gay Palestinian they caught in Tel Aviv. He tells Nabil, who tells their mother Hiam and their sister Abir – who already knew (or at least had her suspicions after seeing a text message from Roy on Nimr’s phone). In a chilling scene, Hiam confronts Nimr about what Nabil told her. Amidst tearful apologies from Nimr and pleas for mercy from his Abir, Nimr’s mother kicks him out of the house.
Nabil physically removes Nimr from the house and takes him to the same place where Mustafa had been murdered. But in a surprising show of mercy, Nabil shows Nimr a ditch through which to escape and tells him to take it to the other side and never come back – shooting two bullets in Nimr’s direction to show him that he’s serious and to give the illusion to his team that he did the deed.
Nimr shows up at Roy’s apartment, who ramps up his efforts to secure a permanent permit for Nimr now that he’s been kicked out of his house – even as he’s finding out more and more about the complexities of Nimr’s situation.
Knowing that he’ll never be allowed to stay permanently in Tel Aviv, Nimr suggests that he and Roy run away together and start a new life together – which Roy is reluctant to do because his life is in Tel Aviv and he hasn’t given up on finding a way for him and Nimr to stay together there.
After a cute couple moment while eating dinner, Nimr sees on the news that his house has been raided by authorities – who had been tipped off about the stockpile of weapons (the film doesn’t specify who the tipper was). They arrest Nabil, confiscate the stockpile as evidence and put out an APB on Nimr.
Meanwhile, an argument ensues between Nimr and Roy about what Nimr knew of his brother’s activities that sends Nimr out into the night. While he’s gone, Security Services stops by Roy’s apartment asking about Nimr. Roy offers them very little, but they know he’s hiding something about Nimr’s whereabouts. After they leave, Roy heads out into the night in search of Nimr.
Meanwhile, police officers recognize Nimr on the street and a chase ensues that ends with Nimr assaulting the pursuant officer and escaping to Mustafa’s old apartment – where Roy finds him. They apologize to each other about their argument and Roy tells Nimr about the arrangement he made through a well-connected client who owed him a favor to be smuggled to France on a yacht – and that he’d fly out there to await Nimr’s arrival and start a new life together.
Unfortunately, authorities followed Roy to Mustafa’s apartment and are waiting outside to take both of them into custody. Roy, thinking he can handle them, takes Nimr’s hat and jacket and runs off in one direction as a distraction while Nimr sneaks out in the other direction a couple minutes later to head to the marina where he’ll board a yacht to France.
Roy as Nimr gets caught by the authorities and is taken into custody where he pleads with the commanding officer to leave Nimr alone since he’s neither a threat to Tel Aviv nor even in Tel Aviv anymore. And while it seems the officer might acquiesce to that, he’s going to make it so that not even Roy’s father’s powerful connections will be able to help him out of this quagmire he’s now in on account of wanting to save Nimr.
In the last shot, we see Nimr sailing to freedom in France – where he still thinks Roy will be waiting for him when he arrives.
It’s a sadly ambiguous ending to a remarkable film that adroitly intertwines this amazing love story with the sociopolitical intrigue in a way that you don’t see very often in gay cinema without it ultimately being more about the politics than the story it is meant to serve. And the politics serving the story of Out in the Dark are rightfully infuriating for those who believe in the basic human rights to live and love – as well as for those who enjoy a good love story and are rooting for the couple at the center of it.
The aesthetically pleasing Jacob and Aloni make for a fine couple and each turn in wonderful performances. Also of particular note in the supporting cast are Khoury as Nabil, Loai Nofi in the relatively small but pivotal role of the fabulous Mustafa and Khawlah Haj as Hiam – particularly chilling in her confrontation scene with Nimr.
And though I’m dying to know what becomes of Nimr and Roy both individually and as a couple, the film is that much more powerful without that knowledge.
But I’m still dying to know.