Sunday, January 17, 2010
NYJFF continues with Tabakman/Doster's surprising EYES WIDE OPEN
TrustMovies has only seen two of the 32 films in this year's 19th New York Jewish Film Festival, but both were worth the watch -- EYES WIDE OPEN (Eynaim Pekukhot) in particular. This is the first full-length, narrative film from director Haim Tabakman (shown below), in which, as writers, he, along with produ-
cer Rafael Katz, French connection David Barrot and the film's original screenwriter Merav Doster were all involved.
An ugly film to watch (the settings -- workplace, apartment, "shul" -- could hardly be more drab and unappealing), Eyes Wide Open takes place in Israel's ultra-orthodox Jewish community, in and around a butcher shop in which one of its leading characters, Aaron, labors and which, due to the recent death of his father, he now owns. Into Aaron's life one day comes the transient Ezri, a young man whom Aaron hires to help in the shop. (The only other major character in the film is Rivka, Aaron's wife.) Ezri is gay (we learn this fact fairly quickly), and Aaron soon finds himself attracted to the young man.
Though this attraction grows throughout the course of the film and is returned in kind by Ezri, the orthodox community, which permits no deviation -- certainly not one this deviant -- rises to what it perceives as a challenge to its very being, as does Rivka, fighting as best she can for her man and her life (the couple has four children). But passion, clearly new to Aaron though not to Ezri, cannot be easily halted. Though, god knows, Aaron tries. This is one of the great strengths of the film: How hard Aaron attempts to deflect, prevent what is happening. "We can refrain!" he pleads with Ezri, for this is what his religion teaches. "We can restrain ourselves!" This restraint builds and builds; when the explosion comes, it is overwhelming -- for both the characters and the viewers -- resulting in one of the hottest sex scenes in cinema history. And one, I might add, in which the participants remain fully clothed.
Eyes Wide Open, a broadside against fundamentalist thinking (and behaving), does not end with the coupling of the two men. This action only begins the suffering to come and answers the question -- Can the true array of human sexuality coexist within orthodox religion? -- in the negative. So effortlessly real are the performan-
ces of Zohar Strauss as Aaron and Ran Danker as Ezri, and so relentless yet believable is the screenplay in its setting-up and working-out of this face-off between immovable objects that we viewers are held captive and pummeled into submission by the enormous constraints imposed by the fundamentalist community.
I wonder: Does a movie exist that shows this community in any joyous light? If so, let me know. If not, maybe it's time to make one. If that is even possible without every character towing the highly constrained line that "god" has decreed.
Eyes Wide Open will make its New York debut this Tuesday, January 19, at 7:30 at Manhattan's Jewish Community Center, and then will play the FSLC's Walter Reade Theater this Saturday, January 23, at 6:30pm and again Sunday, January 24, at 6. Good news: this film has been picked up for U.S. theatrical distribution by the relativel;y new company New American Vision. The DVD release will come eventually from First Run Features.