Go See This: “Eyes Wide Open”

13 Feb

Ezri (Ran Danker) and Aaron (Zohar Strauss) visit the countryside.

After seeing Tom Ford’s stunning directorial debut, A Single Man, last month, I was sure I’d have to wait sometime to see another gay-themed film so beautiful and poised. Last night, however, another directorial debut proved me wrong.

Israeli Haim Tabakman’s Eyes Wide Open (Einaym Pkuhot) is a controlled and moving exploration of faith and sexuality–perhaps the most successful I’ve seen. Following the relationship between two ultra-Orthodox Jewish men in modern-day Jerusalem, the film offers a window into a gay experience far-removed from most of ours. In Mea Shearim, the most religious and conservative neighborhood in Jerusalem, being gay is not just not accepted, it is not talked about. Part of the effectiveness of Eyes Wide Shut lies in writer Merav Doster’s choice to never allow the characters to talk explicitly about the central conflicts–the words “gay” and “sex” are never spoken.

Zohar Strauss’ leading performance as Aaron, a local butcher and tsaddik (a righteous man of spiritual prominence in the Hassidic community), is understated and heartbreaking, preventing the film from ever veering toward melodrama. Likewise, the hunky Ran Danker, as the young transient student who comes to work in Aaron’s shop and eventually rattles the butcher’s commitment to religious law, plays the role with a boyish innocence and surprising honesty. Israeli star Tinkerbell’s quiet resignation as Aaron’s wife, Rivka, makes her character the saddest of all perhaps.

Though the narrative is not always clear, and the gay love scenes may suffer from being too safe, Eyes Wide Open succeeds brilliantly in portraying the pain of a split-self and a community where the social rules are non-negotiable. A.O. Scott gave the film a glowing review in the New York Times, and even former mayor Ed Koch has given the film his recommendation. Eyes Wide Open‘s many moments of quiet allow the beautiful cinematography to be appreciated and make all that is not said keenly felt.

Watch the trailer (with English subtitles):

Go see it at Cinema Village (where tickets are only $8 with a student discount)!

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