“Out in the Dark” director Michael Mayer with one of the film’s stars, Michael Aloni. | EREZ MAYA/ BREAKING GLASS PICTURES
An intriguing melodrama, directed and co-written by gay Israeli filmmaker Michael Mayer, “Out in the Dark” concerns two men — Nimr (Nicholas Jacob) a Palestinian psychology student, and Roy (Michael Aloni), an Israeli lawyer — meeting and bonding in an Israeli gay bar. That it is dangerous for Nimr to be in Tel Aviv is not lost on the audience. We first see him as he is sneaking across the border to get to the bar.
These attractive guys fall quickly and deeply in love. And they themselves have little problem that the other is “the enemy,” though the film’s tenderness soon turns dark. The closeted Nimr argues with his brother Nabil (Jamil Khoury) — who is storing guns — and he is kicked out of the family’s house. His troubles are complicated when he is suspected of being an Israeli collaborator and the Palestinians withdraw his permission to cross into Israel, where he attends classes. Roy uses his connections to help his lover, but as the legal and political issues come to a head, the Israeli man realizes he does not know Nimr especially well.
Director Michael Mayer creates thriller from Israeli-Palestinian love story
“Out in the Dark” teases out the situational and moral quandaries right up until the film’s ambiguous ending. Gay City News spoke with writer and director Mayer about the political, social, and sexual issues his ambitious film raises.
GARY M. KRAMER: How did you come to tell this story?
MICHAEL MAYER: A friend of mine told me he was volunteering with a gay and lesbian center in Tel Aviv, giving support for gay Palestinians living in Israel. He got to know a few of these guys, who were hiding and came into the center and needed help — a place to sleep, medical attention, legal advice, or someone to talk to. This story surprised me, and I wanted to tell it and make people aware of it.
GMK: How did you approach the material?
MM: We tried not to make it too political and really tell a love story and an intimate film about Nimr’s family. We struggled to keep that balance and not make it too preachy or political. Although it is a fiction film, when we [Mayer and co-writer Yael Shafrir] did the research and talked to cross-border couples, the things that touched us most were their personal interest stories about how the family reacted. We wanted to translate that to film. That’s why the film clicks with audiences, because we were able to strike a balance between a love story, an emotional story, and political resonance as well. It’s topical.
GMK: What do you think Nimr and Roy see in each other?
MM: They each see someone who wants to get out [of the Middle East] as much as they do — these characters are exhausted with the situation. They try to live their lives detached from the politics and find comfort in each other. They also each find the qualities in the other they wish they had.
GMK: How did you construct the sexuality of the characters, which is as important as their nationality?
MM: Something that used to exist in the late ‘90s and most of the last decade was that the Israel intelligence community was using gay Palestinians as informants. It was an assumed fact that if [a Palestinian] was gay and spending a lot of time on the other side of the fence they were an Israeli collaborator. I want to think that sexuality and nationality is something the characters transcend. Nimr is closeted. He is very reserved, and not just in the way he expresses his sexuality. He’s very introverted. Roy is more fluid in how he presents himself. In the gay club, for example, and when he and Nimr are together, he is softer than when he’s at work.
GMK: The film starts out as a love story, but becomes a kind of thriller. Can you discuss that?
MM: One of the things that drove me to this story was that there are thriller elements — organizations, groups, and people who are putting others at risk in order to save or help guys who are in dire situations. We wanted to make it a love story and a thriller. The movies I like to see are films that mix genres.
GMK: The film has an appropriately ambiguous ending. Was that deliberate?
MM: When Yael and I were writing this, we did research and had instances where we argued. We have a lot of pessimism when it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the possibility of a solution. But the more we talked about it, we see generations down the line that there’s a possibility of peace and we do have hope. We wanted that to be a living, breathing part of the film. It’s true to the realities of these people. Never create a situation where there is no glimmer of hope.
OUT IN THE DARK | Directed by Michael Mayer | Breaking Glass Pictures | Opens Sep. 27 | Cinema Village, 22 E. 12th St. | cinemavillage.com