Metro Weekly

‘El Houb’ Review: Arab Spring

A coming-out drama devoid of joy or affirmation, 'El Houb' looks at an angst-ridden gay Arab immigrant's life in Amsterdam.

El Houb -- Photo: Courtesy of Dark Star Pictures
El Houb — Photo: Courtesy of Dark Star Pictures

While its story trips fluidly back and forth in time, much of the action in Shariff Nasr’s drama El Houb (★★☆☆☆) remains, like the film’s Moroccan-Dutch protagonist Karim, confined to a single location: the Amsterdam apartment of Karim’s parents.

Co-written by Nasr and Philip Delmaar, the film is based on events in the life of Moroccan-Dutch stage and screen actor Fahd Larhzaoui, who stars as Karim, a taciturn, Arab immigrant Vin Diesel lookalike, introduced tooling around the city streets in his luxury two-seater convertible.

Note that the sun’s out, but the top’s up — El Houb is no sunny, free-wheeling, coming-out romp, but rather a perpetually gray, solemn account of Karim trying to get his traditional Arab family to come to terms with the fact he’s gay.

He has, up to this point, led everyone to believe he’d dutifully fulfill his masculine role of marrying a nice Arab girl and starting a family of his own. It’s what everyone in his community expects of him, as he’s reminded when his parents’ neighbor, Fouad (Yahya Gaier), seeing Karim pull up in his convertible, asks, “Where are you going to put the child seats?”

El Houb -- Photo: Courtesy of Dark Star Pictures
El Houb — Photo: Courtesy of Dark Star Pictures

Little does Fouad know. “I’m never getting married. Not with a woman,” Karim announces to his parents, after his father Abbas (Slimane Dazi) catches him with Ghanaian lover Kofi (Emmanuel Ohene Boafo). The reaction from Karim’s mother Fatima (Lubna Azabal) is swift and decisive: “Go away,” she tells him. “Out.” But Karim stands his ground, sort of — he locks himself inside the hall closet of his parents’ apartment, and refuses to come out until they can all discuss this rationally, like a family.

Thus barricaded in their apartment, with control of the main power switches, Karim hopes to reason with Abbas and Fatima, while, in a series of flashbacks (featuring bald-pated Larhzaoui in a distracting wig), he recalls the path that led him, literally, back into the closet of his childhood home.

Structured loosely to depict scenes from Karim’s childhood, as well as his out gay life — meeting Kofi on the throbbing dance floor of a club, for example — the movie keeps returning to the closet, from whence Karim shares his feelings with whomever is there to listen.

In turn, Abbas and Fatima each have a scene to monologue outside the closet door, expressing their objections. Karim’s younger, not terribly sensitive, brother Redouan (Sabri Saddik) has his say, too. The monologues volleyed through the closet door, and the balanced but staid composition of the camerawork, lends to the impression we’re watching a filmed stage play that’s determined to strike just one note insistently, repeatedly.

El Houb -- Photo: Courtesy of Dark Star Pictures
El Houb — Photo: Courtesy of Dark Star Pictures

Offering very little uplift, the film commits to the possibility that the love Karim’s parents feel for him — El Houb translates to “the love” in Arabic — might not be enough to bridge their differences. Every coming-out movie, just like every real-life coming-out story, doesn’t necessarily end in hugs and rainbows.

Karim’s parents want to call their imam for his advice, but Karim can only recall that the same imam also counseled Karim’s cousin and best friend Soufian (Nasrdin Dchar), whom, we learn, should have sought more understanding counsel. Somber, shot in shadow, scored to the angelic tones of a choir, the film’s time spent with Soufian is entirely depressing.

The one slight indication of comedy throughout, in a flashback of Karim introducing a Dutch girlfriend to his parents, doesn’t really land. The film is so relentlessly serious and downbeat that even its affecting portrayal of familial rejection is strangled of the air this story needs to breathe. El Houb stays stuck in the closet, along with Karim.

El Houb is available on Digital and VOD platforms, including iTunes, Amazon, Google Play, Vudu, and others. Visit

Support Metro Weekly’s Journalism

These are challenging times for news organizations. And yet it’s crucial we stay active and provide vital resources and information to both our local readers and the world. So won’t you please take a moment and consider supporting Metro Weekly with a membership? For as little as $5 a month, you can help ensure Metro Weekly magazine and remain free, viable resources as we provide the best, most diverse, culturally-resonant LGBTQ coverage in both the D.C. region and around the world. Memberships come with exclusive perks and discounts, your own personal digital delivery of each week’s magazine (and an archive), access to our Member's Lounge when it launches this fall, and exclusive members-only items like Metro Weekly Membership Mugs and Tote Bags! Check out all our membership levels here and please join us today!