Tuesday, November 5, 2013

DVDebut today! From Israel, Michael Mayer's OUT IN THE DARK is maybe the best gay melodrama of the millennium

What's it like to be a gay Muslim in Palestine today? As much as I hate the current Israeli occupation of what were Palestinian territories won over in wartime (though one could easily remark that the entire state of Israel was once part of Palestine), watching the disgusting treatment of gay Palestinians by their own people (includ-ing their immedi-ate families) is just about enough to turn one's feelings com-pletely around. The very smart and often thrilling -- tamping up both one's adrenalin and testosterone -- new melodrama, OUT IN THE DARK, from first-time, full-length filmmaker Michael Mayer (shown below) is so well-directed and -acted that it will hold you in thrall from first frame to last. Best of all, it's a crackerjack, dark melodrama that, for the most part, manages to avoid being melodramatic.

The film is also well-written enough to carry you along, though the screen-play is indeed the weak link. Situationally, screenwriter Mayer and his co-writer Yael Shafrir have packed a little too much into the life of one of their protagonists, the Palestinian, Nimr Mashrawi (played by the excellent first-time screen actor Nicholas Jacob, below). Being gay, Muslim and living in the occupied Arab section is enough to get one beaten and even killed, as we see happen  to one of Nimr's friends. Having as well a big brother involved in gun-running and anti-Israeli terrorism makes the young man's life a living hell, as he is soon wrenched between the Israeli security forces and the Arab world's and his own family's crazy fanaticism.

While this makes for very good melodrama leading to a thrilling, pulsating finish, you can't help but realize that the set-up is just a little too neat. Still, so fine are the performances (by all), along with the pacing and technical aspects, that you'll not complain.

The only bit of safety and security in Nimr's life comes from the handsome Israeli fellow, a young lawyer named Roy, whom Nimr meets at a gay bar during one of his infrequent and illegal trips across the border into Israel. Played by a more seasoned actor, Michael Aloni (above and below)...

...who resembles a much-better-looking Anthony Weiner, this character has his own problems -- a mother (Cheli Goldenberg, below, right) who'd prefer he pick an Israeli dick to play around with, and a criminal bigwig client who has promised him a favor (another too-slick bit of plotting) -- but he soon find himself in thrall to his sweet Palestinian.

One of the strengths of the movie is that it allows us to view its protago-nists in various areas of their life: Roy at work and with his family, Nimr with his family and in his role as a budding psychology student working with and for Palestinian social services. From the scene we see in which Nimr helps resolve -- and very humanely -- a situation concerning a men-tally ill mom and her family, it is clear that he'll make a fine counselor.

All this helps round and broaden a film that could easily stick only to its love story and chase/thriller aspects and still be worth seeing. Mostly, though, as it encompasses its theme of justice for Arab gays -- which has rarely been presented more powerfully -- it will leave you ferociously angry at the waste and horror that fanatical religion and backward culture can wreak upon innocents trying to live and love in this world of ours.

Out in the Dark -- from Breaking Glass Pictures and running a near-perfectly-timed 96 minutes -- hits American streets today on DVD, and soon or eventually, I hope, on various streaming formats.

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