Judge Brett Cullum finds the metaphor of love in a butcher shop just a little disturbing.
Forbidden love in the shadows of the devout.
Eyes Wide Open can accurately be described as an Orthodox Jewish retelling of Brokeback Mountain without slight to either film in any way. It's the mournful story of a devout Jewish butcher (Zohar Shtrauss) who's life is turned upside down by a young gay Yeshiva student (Ran Danker) who he thinks he can reform. The well-respected father of four soon learns that he has been hiding himself behind his own veil of secrecy and guilt about who he really is. The student teaches him more than he ever expected. The film explores the contradictory sense of the struggle of sexual desire against religious obligation. Oddly enough, the narrative never looks down on either side. Israeli director Haim Tabakman weighs both religion and sexual identity without sensationalizing any aspect of the two against each other, and merely presents the men and faith as what they are.
It is an unlikely story, one that makes a fascinating a film because it immerses us in a foreign land and alien culture. I almost had to read up on Israeli customs and law to understand certain aspects of their world, such as the gangs of enforcers called "modesty squads" that rabbis turn to when someone sins in their community. The film itself is slowly paced and melancholy throughout, much like what we saw with Brokeback Mountain, and it allows things to grow and deliberately affect the characters. It's entirely in Hebrew with subtitles, so I found myself relying on body language and facial performances to inform me of the story. The actors do a remarkable job with no fuss or histrionics present, and it is a confident and well-made film. It deserves a wider audience as it supplies an interesting struggle that can be seen universally by the GLBT community.
The DVD includes the feature supported only by an interview with the director. He speaks of why and how the film was made, and informs us enough about its background. The transfer looks just fine with an almost black and white color palette that is purposefully washed out for most of the film. This is a picture that is always feeling over-exposed—and rightfully so, given the delicate themes of exposure and coming to the light. There are no problems with digital manipulation or pixelation from edge enhancement, and things look well controlled and studied. The stereo Hebrew dialogue track is clear enough, and there are subtitles to guide American viewers through the world of orthodox Israel.
This is a poignant story that demands to be seen. Eyes Wide Open rightfully won tons of critical accolades as it traveled around the country in arthouse film theaters daring enough to show it. The film mourns the idea that a chance to sin is also a chance for salvation, and it hits home where the two can torment a man in either direction. Is it better to be pious out of obligation or should you be free out of personal need? Religious men have struggled with this for centuries, and it seems doubtful there will ever be an easy answer. The butcher finds himself smack in the middle of an identity crisis which betrays everything he has ever been taught, and yet he feels alive when he succumbs to nature. Eyes Wide Open is about the painful process we go through to get to that point, and it is all the more powerful for showing it in a world where that is not valued.
Not guilty of anything but simple love and understanding.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: First Run Features
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