Out in the Dark (2012)

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As The Bubble and The Invisible Men did before it, Out in the Dark considers the situation homosexual Palestinians find themselves constrained by, albeit with more mainstream media attention. This film, which was widely spoken about and generally well praised, centres around the story of Nimr and Roy. This feature film does indeed have many good points and I did, on the whole, enjoy it, but it does lack a certain something and can, perhaps, be accused of bias when the viewer bears in mind that its budget came from the Israel Film Fund. While this can be seen in places, it is unfair to completely suggest the film is biased. Israel is not shown in an explicitly ‘good’ light – turning away asylum seekers, dubious security forces and homophobia, are just a few negative points that come to mind. This does make the film more balanced than it could have turned out to be, but the film does still have, on the whole, a more biased view of the Palestinian Territories and plays to stereotypes.

It is difficult to tell what are stereotypes and what behaviours are based on elements of truth. It would seem that being homosexual is something less accepted in the largely Muslim Palestinian Territories, which is a trend we see across the rest of the Middle East. Considering that we see a negative reaction from Roy’s Israeli parents regarding this sexuality, the more extreme reaction from Nimr’s Palestinian family fits this trend. Here I would say the film isn’t biased and, in fact, highlights that homophobia, in varying degrees, is still a problem in both Israel and the Palestinian Territories.

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As mentioned above we do see negative aspects of Israeli society throughout too, which points in the general direction of a largely unbiased film. However, there are certainly points in the film when the desperate need for a bias clearly couldn’t be suppressed any longer. There are certainly points in the film when Roy treats Nimr to his own special brand of colonial snobbery. Roy can be seen to label Nimr’s family as terrorists from the second he sees the report from the Israeli news channel, to name just one example. There definitely seems to be the suggestion that Roy and his family are more developed socially than Nimr’s family, which opens up a whole separate debate – mainly, is it actually vicariously Roy’s family’s fault as Israel cuts off the Palestinian Territories from the luxuries of a rich and developed state.

Moving away from any political or social bias in the director’s or writer’s stance, and looking at the relationship between Roy and Nimr, we see yet another great portrayal of a homosexual couple on screen. The film is generally quite praiseworthy in this respect and I, for one, appreciated that Roy and Nimr didn’t sleep together the night they met and the fact that they weren’t portrayed as two men who were emotionally or psychologically damaged by their sexuality.

As the film progresses the two men realise that they can’t be together in Israel, not matter how many strings Roy tries to pull. With a solution in sight, the film closes with a close race to escape. One bugbear for me was that we will never find out if either of them made their separate ways successfully, to actually facilitate their new life abroad, but in reality, if it had ended in this ‘happily ever after’ fashion then I probably would have complained about that too.

My Brother the Devil (2012)

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This film featured at the BFI London Lesbian and Gay Film Festival, which I unfortunately didn’t get to catch until I was back in the comfort of my own home. This film is widely regarded as a huge success, with many awards to its name and a very impressive 97% on Rotten Tomatoes. Directed by Sally El Hosaini – an Egyptian Welsh director – the story centres around Rashid (played by the striking James Floyd) and his brother Mo (Fady Elsayed) and their lives in the depths of East London. Older brother Rashid is deeply embroiled in gang culture but after a particularly harrowing innocent he takes a step back – partly influenced by Sayyid (Saïd Taghmaoui), an affluent photographer also originally from North Africa. Mo, however, becomes more and more embroiled in the gang culture his brother has tried to deter him from for so long. The queer dynamic of this film takes a backseat and doesn’t come to light until much later in the film – something that is actually very refreshing, if a little predictable in its execution. Rashid falls for Sayyad and Mo soon discovers. An earlier line haunts the audience – “live East, die young” – as Mo gets into the gang culture too deep and this mixes with his anger and confusion regarding his brother’s sexuality.

Much like Feo Aladag’s Die Fremde (When We Leave) (2010), this film focuses on immigrant families and their attitudes and behaviour towards family members that test the limits of their beliefs and traditions. Here Rashid is struggling with his sexuality and Mo with the temptations of following the crowd in East London. In Die Fremde, Umay leaves her abusive husband in Turkey and returns to her family in Berlin and then has an abortion. Her brother’s are also involved in the criminal underworld and the violence at the end of both films holds similarities – not only in the choice of weapon, but also the fact that the victims are not the ones intended. Despite the differences in themes and setting, these films have many parallels and consider the issues (positive and negative) behind immigration and integration.

My Brother the Devil is a film that is deeply powerful and emotional. The subject matter is handled at an appropriate level without being hyperbolic or biased. Sally El Hosaini has created a fantastic account of the issues above and deserves all the praise she receives. The only question that remains is which brother is the devil and from which perspective this comes from?

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Taxi zum Klo (1981)

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As one of the first, if not the first, explicitly queer themed film to come out of (West) Germany, Taxi zum Klo is a lost classic, which tells us much about society at the beginning of the 1980s. Followed by a string of, albeit less well known, queer films Taxi zum Klo is perhaps less famous than the East German offering, Coming Out (1989) – however this first screened on the night the Berlin Wall fell, which probably helped it secure it this place.

Mostly autobiographical and filmed non-professionally by a team of Frank Rippioh’s friends Frank tells the story of himself, a gay teacher in 1980s West Berlin. For Frank sex plays an all-encompassing role in his life and this is not shied away from on screen (hence the certificate ‘18’ rating).

Taxi zum Klo studies many different themes, mainly the concept of sexuality and the definition of sexuality. Frank struggles with the boxes people, including his partner Bernd, continue to put him in. He wants the relationship that Bernd offers him, but he also wants to explore himself sexually and not live in a routine – at one point he becomes enraged when Bernd calls him home for his dinner. The film is (in)famous for its risqué sex scenes, even by today’s standards. At times the film slips into pornography (Interior Leather Bar?), perhaps most famously the watersports scene. In this respect, this may not be a first step into queer cinema, certainly if it is your parents you are introducing to queer classics.

Despite the amateur nature of this film, the camera work has a certain beauty to it. One scene sees Frank cruising in the depths of winter, and in the background you see Berlin’s famous Siegessäule, or Victory Column. Not only is this an interesting image, juxtaposing the city to Frank’s sexuality, but also Siegessäule is now actually the name of one of Berlin’s queer publications. On another level this could be cryptic innuendo, or juxtaposition to Imperial Germany and its suppression of anything that wasn’t ‘manly’ in the early 1900s.

The film is often quite intense to watch, but there is something deeply interesting about the film; maybe it’s the risqué nature, maybe it is the characters, or maybe it is the production work. Honestly, I think it is the way it handles the topic of sexuality so openly and freely – something that Berlin has continued to do to this day. There are interesting juxtapositions to his school life and the lives of his fellow teachers, but also to the prostitute in the STI clinic. These juxtapositions continue throughout and are often layered over other scenes to juxtapose them further. Most important though are the scenes when Frank drives through the city while we hear his stream of consciousness – these scenes reveal Frank’s desires, thoughts and concerns at a most intimate level. Overall this seems to be an unsung hero of queer cinema and a relic from a time when in many countries in Europe homosexuality was only just legal. (Homosexuality was decriminalised in West Germany in 1969, and in 1968 in the East).

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