Sunday 19 September 2010

On DVD: "Eyes Wide Open"

Haim Tabakman's moody gay romance Eyes Wide Open turns in circles familiar in one respect: it's the tale of a conflicted young man who arrives in the city to find himself, and in doing so ends up rocking the whole scene to its foundations. The novelty is that this young man should do all his brooding under black hats and ringlets, for the characters in Tabakman's film are ultra-Orthodox Jews living in Jerusalem. Visiting scholar Ezri (Ram Danker) is openly out - indeed, one of his first appointments in the city is with an ex who, under pressure from his peers, snubs him anew - but the object of his affections, the older Aaron (Zohar Strauss), is a married pillar of the community: a butcher with a tableful of kids to support. The latter takes Ezri under his wing, and into his storeroom, and thus faces exile, or - worse - a roughing-up by the Hasidic heavy mob in which he had formerly been a key participant.

Compared to Brokeback Mountain - which flaunted a scandalous 15 certificate - the watchword of this 12-rated film is restraint: for the most part, we're watching two men who feel obliged to hold themselves back. In the love scenes, the beards keep getting in the way; and when Ezri and Aaron finally look like consummating their relationship physically in a meat locker (insert your own joke here), Tabakman cuts away to the pair of them enjoying a post-coital cigarette in the street outside, as though this were a 1940s studio movie.

Eyes Wide Open
is rather po-faced in this manner: for all their urgency (that which follows from the fear of being caught), the secret lovers' encounters contain little sense of joy or escape; when Aaron, mid-thrusting, wonders aloud "How did I come to this?", we perhaps note the evolution of a higher strain of Judaism, one which actually fosters guilt during sex. Still, the drama is persuasively performed - Strauss, in particular, appears to have etched into his face an acknowledgement of how much his Aaron has to lose - and shrewd, judicious mise-en-scène allows us to peer into what's effectively a whole other world: it makes an item of (untranslated) fascination out of those official screeds plastered onto this neighborhood's walls, with their stern lists of dos and don'ts. Apt that the butcher should be named Fleischmann, too: here are characters struggling to reconcile their flesh with their faith, torn between kosher society, and that decreed off-the-menu.

Eyes Wide Open is available on DVD from tomorrow.

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