The political gets in the way of the personal in microbudget melodrama “Out in the Dark,” as Haifa-born, Los Angeles-trained multihypenate Michael Mayer overloads his sympathetic, Israeli-Palestinian gay love story with Big Issues and credulity-straining twists. Reminiscent in certain ways of Eytan Fox’s “The Bubble” but with much tamer guy-on-guy action, this tale of Jewish lawyer Roy (sultry Michael Aloni) and Ramallah-based psychology grad student Nimer (non-pro Nicholas Jacob) should find niche distribution, but will net more viewers — and look better — in ancillary. Hitting the triple-threat demographic of gay, Jewish and human rights interests, fest action is assured.
Roy and Nimer are smitten after a meeting in a Tel Aviv gay bar. Hottie Roy is out to his family, but Nimer comes from a conservative village where gay men and Israeli informants are dispensed vigilante justice from a group of thugs headed by Nimer’s brother Nabil (Jameel Khouri), who is also hiding illegal weapons in the family home.
When Israeli secret service goons try, and fail, to blackmail Nimer into collaboration, they revoke his permit to enter Israel, ending his course work and destroying his dreams of a Ph.D from Stanford or Cambridge. Meanwhile, Nimer’s family discovers his homosexuality and disowns him, leaving him no one to turn to but Roy.
For plot purposes, it would have been enough that the couple must contend with the way Israel makes it difficult for Arabs to work, study and travel within its borders, and that Nimer’s sexual preference isn’t known to his conservative family, but Mayer and co-scripter Yael Shafir aren’t content to develop the men’s relationship in a nuanced way. Instead, they pile on Arab and Jewish heavies, a terrorism twist and even a ludicrous chase scene.
The visual style of intimate close-ups within dimly lit surroundings (seemingly illuminated by light sources within the frame) works well for the story, and no doubt suited budget constraints, but at the Toronto fest screening caught, what was on the screen looked dupey and lacked color contrast.
On the thesping side, the handsome Aloni (“Policeman”) makes Roy credible and creates chemistry with the untrained Jacobs, who doesn’t quite deliver the energy and charisma Nimer needs. The thinly drawn supporting characters come off as bland or blatant stereotypes, with the exception of Loai Noufi, who makes an impression as a louche gay Palestinian.