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Eyes Wide Open (2009)

A movie directed by Haim Tabakman

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Worth the Wait--a Brilliant Film

  • Aug 17, 2010
"Eyes Wide Open"

Worth the Wait--a Brilliant Film

Amos Lassen

I first heard about "Eyes Wide Open" about a year ago and I have spent a year trying to get a copy. I finally got one thanks to Kelly Hargraves of First Run Films who is releasing the DVD later this year. The film right now, after playing at various festivals around the world, is opening the prestigious Jewish Film Festival in New York City. Israeli filmmaker Haim Tabakman gives us a love story between two religious Jews and as most of us are well aware this is taboo. Religious Jews do not consider homosexuality a sin--for them, it does not exist.
What Tabakman wants to do with this film is to break the silence on this and thereby make the Orthodox Jewish world become involved in the evolution. Using film to do this is to show that this kind of love does indeed exist. Looking at other films that deal with the Orthodox world, we have seen both the pluses and minuses of living in a closed religious community. "Eyes Wide Open" takes us one step farther.
The film is dark and disturbing. Aaron Freidman (Zohar Strauss) is the father of four who takes over the family kosher butcher shop in Jerusalem after the death of his father. His world is turned on its head when a young Yeshiva student, Ezri (Ran Danker) arrives at the shop. The two men begin to spend time together and Aaron faces difficulties from his Orthodox community. Rabbi Vaisben (Tzahi Grad) confronts him and Aaron tells him that he felt as if he were dead before meeting Ezri. What was once social control of his community becomes violent and ugly and Ezri is forced to leave.
The film is driven by its characters and comes to us in the cinema verite style. Religion and sexuality collide and we see the question of the meaning of restraint and further wonder if we are really being honest and true to God if we destroy ourselves in the process. The theme is controversial and the treatment of that theme which could have been controversial is actually quite tame.
We learn that Ezri had been abandoned by his previous partner and he tempts Aaron into going to the mikveh (a tradition among Orthodox Jews--it calls for immersion in a freshwater pool). Instead of the ritual cleansing that is to come about because of this, Ezri corrupts Aaron who is already not at peace and a fire is lit in him that he cannot put out. Aaron makes no attempt to hide their affair and what follows is inevitable. Aaron is told to get ride of Ezri and he is forced to take on abuse from the community. Aaron does not comply nor respond.
If there is a fault with the film I would say that it is that Tabakman does tackle head-on the moral, social and religious issues that come about because of the homosexual relationship--instead he focuses on the personal drama. The two characters come together because of lust--we do not see any evidence of love nor do we see that they are bothered about the collision between their faith and their actions. We do see Aaron's conscience pangs about his wife and family but Ezri seems to have no internal conflicts. Rivka, Aaron's stoic wife is no match for Ezri with his passion and hedonism.
Tabakman's direction is nuanced and this makes the repressed desires of the men palpable early in the film. When we see them sing about the joy of the Torah we see that their joy is not just spiritual. The art direction is gritty and realistic and the enclosed world of the characters is emphasized. It is set during a wet and dark Jerusalem winter and the rain and the darkness are metaphors for the ritual cleansing and the pressure to conform in the Orthodox community. The actors are strong and the message that comes across is powerful as well.

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About the reviewer
Amos Lassen ()
Ranked #208
I am an academic who reivews movies and books of interest to the GLBT and Jewish communities.   I came to Arkansas after having been relocated here due to Hurricane Katrina. I was living in … more
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With respect and compassion,Eyes Wide Openexplores the conflict between sexual desire and religious obligation... illuminating a cosmos of intense and hidden feeling. --A.O. Scot, The New York Times
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Director: Haim Tabakman
DVD Release Date: November 16, 2010
Runtime: 90 minutes
Studio: First Run Features
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