Festival favourite Out In The Dark is a tender and hopeful exploration of love across the Israeli Palestinian border
One of the galas that played at the LLGFF earlier this year, Out In The Dark, explores a star-crossed romance between two men on opposite sides of the Israeli-Palestinian divide. It’s a mesmerising debut from writer-director Michael Mayer, who proves a dab hand at stretching love across the ideological chasm. Born and raised in Haifa, but living in LA since the mid-1990s, Mayer’s original inspiration struck when a visiting friend shared his experiences of counselling gay Palestinians in Tel Aviv.
‘I was kind of blown away that there are people helping each other from both sides of the conflict, not because they’re political activists but because they share an experience of being outsiders in their own communities,’ states Mayer. ‘It may sound cheesy but it really moved me.’
Mayer headed back home, recruited a co-writer and fashioned his subsequent research into a Tel Aviv-set love story between Nimr (Nicholas Jacob), a Palestinian psychology student, and Roy (Michael Aloni), a Jewish lawyer. What begins as bar-fuelled lust swiftly develops into something deeper.
Roy brings Nimr home to meet his parents (his mum is horrified he’s dating a Palestinian), while Nimr must remain in the closet amongst his own West Bank community– not least from his radicalised brother, who kills anyone suspected of being an Israeli collaborator, including Nimr’s best friend. At the film’s heart is its sensitive portrayal of a loving, caring relationship, including convincingly intimate and heartfelt love scenes. They’re all the more impressive when you consider that both actors are straight. Jacob, making his acting debut, didn’t find them easy ‘but I shot a film straight after where I have a heterosexual love scene and that wasn’t any easier. It’s hard to create intimacy in front of a camera, whether you’re with a guy or a girl.’ As for Aloni, a onetime teen heartthrob who now hosts his country’s version of The Voice, he almost didn’t take the role but is glad he decided to in the end. ‘Nicholas was a great partner,’ he says. ‘We worked very hard to get the feeling of two guys falling in love with each other.’
Mayer’s compassionate debut casts an unflinching light on LGBT hardships in hostile environments and presents the stark realities of Israel’s apartheid-esque society. But it’s also swooningly romantic, and steams towards a thriller-like finish that may leave your heart in your throat over what fate will befall Roy and Nimr’s seemingly doomed passion.
‘It’s just a simple love story, really authentic and reflective of day to day life,’ concludes Aloni. ‘This relationship is real. It’s true and honest.’