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WATCH: This evocative gay Muslim drama tells a coming out story unlike any other

Image Credit: ‘El Houb,’ Gusto Entertainment

The closet plays a crucial role in the Moroccan-Dutch coming-out drama El Houb (“The Love”). And we don’t mean that in the metaphorical sense—there is literally a closet, and a lot of the film takes place in it.

That’s the sort of sly humor that underpins the otherwise tense, emotional family dynamics at the heart of El Houb, the first narrative feature from filmmaker Shaffir Nasr. His film tells the story of Karim (Fahd Larhzaoui), a gay man living a happy, successful life in The Netherlands, who is nevertheless not out to the rest of his Muslim family.

After his father accidentally stumbles in on him with his boyfriend, Karim is forced to finally tell his family the truth. As he’d long feared, the initial conversation doesn’t go over well, with his mother asking him to leave, driving home her concern over “what the neighbors might think.” But, refusing to change himself or lose his loved ones, Karim shuts himself in their closet, which he won’t leave until they’ll talk with him.

Related: This movie about homosexuality in the Middle East is sparking major outcry in Egypt

Based loosely on its star’s own life, the main thrust of El Houb plays out during Karim’s sit-in and the frank conversations with his parents and brother that ensue, with interspersed flashbacks to his coming-of-age, his meet-cute with his partner, and a particularly memorable moment from childhood when men began kissing on TV and Karim’s mother rushes to find the remote and change the channel. Even as Karim navigates these tough talks and painful memories, writer/director Shariff Nasr maintains a sharp wit that brings a welcome levity to this singular family drama.

As Nasr has said, many LGBTQ stories about the MENA (Middle Eastern North African) community only offer two outcomes: “You either seem to choose for your family or your sexuality.” But, as his film explores: What happens if you want both? In attempting to answer this question with nuance and compassion, El Houb presents a different kind of coming-out story.

After premiering at San Francisco’s historic Frameline LGBTQ+ Film Festival, El Houb has played across the globe on the international film festival circuit. Though official release details have yet to be announced, Nasr is planning a theatrical rollout that will start in California, and hopes to spread the love (“el houb”) from there.

Ahead of its screening at the Melbourne Queer Film Festival, the film has premiered a new trailer, which you can watch below:

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