Sset within the cloistered community of an Orthodox Jewish world in Jerusalem, Eyes Wide Open is a quietly tragic film about the devastating effect of homosexuality on the lives of its two Jewish protagonists.
Aaron Fleishman (Zohar Shtrauss) takes over the family kosher butchery after his father dies. A married father of four, he’s a sombre, silent man who spends his mostly solitary days in the grim-looking shop. It’s a grimy place, washed over in cold fluorescent light which throws an unforgiving glow over all.
Life changes irrevocably when a young Yeshiva student, Ezri (Ran Danker), enters the butchery and becomes his assistant. The two are immediately drawn towards each other – and the concept and its consequences is a frightening one, especially for Aaron, who is married and a pillar of his community.
Ezri, it could be said, is just passing through. There will be consequences for him too, but they are lesser, he can move on.
Love plays itself out in this cold, harsh-looking shop, taking place in a room above with its sagging bed and peeling ceiling, or in the depths of the vast fridge below. With dead meat hanging from hooks in the ceiling, you can just about smell the decay of the carcasses and it’s not hard to make the leap to the metaphor filmmaker Haim Tabakman implies in this film.
There’s stagnation and death, and seemingly no solution, or proper outlet, for the love the two men feel for each other.
In an interview, Tabakman has commented that “religious people do not consider homosexuality a sin, it just does not exist. So how can you deal with it if somewhere it is written that it does not exist? To them, it’s just an evil urge. Being homosexual is like a disease that you can easily get rid of. It cannot be part of a human being’s essence.”
Eyes Wide Open takes us into the very heart of the Orthodox community, a world of conformity and compromise. From the butchery, to the small narrow streets of old Jerusalem, to the stifling confines of a flat that is too small to contain the family and this momentous series of events.
We watch as Aaron and his wife Rivka (Tinkerbel) eat a plain supper together, the children in bed, the silence lying in shafts between them. It’s clear that Rivka knows only too well what’s taking place between the two men.
When Aaron and Ezri go off to a small dam, finally away from prying eyes, swimming together, there’s a sense of a breath of fresh air, of freedom, albeit fettered and brief. While the butchery is an unforgiving cold place, the dam is bathed in a stark, azure beauty.
Secrets will out in this small, tightly-knit world, and the community is outraged. Things cannot continue as they are. Aaron and his lover Ezri will be forced to choose.
Watching the choices being made is harrowing – the film keeps you on a knife’s edge and is a gripping piece of narration. This is a bold, compelling film which casts a hard, judgmental light on the world of orthodox Jews, and its truths make for unsettling viewing.
(Published in The Sunday Independent, Novemver 14 2010)