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Eyes Wide Open

by Kilian Melloy
Monday Nov 8, 2010
Zohar Strauss and Ran Danker star in Eyes Wide Open
Zohar Strauss and Ran Danker star in Eyes Wide Open  (Source:Arte)

In Haim Tabakman's Eyes Wide Open it isn't just local butcher Aaron Fleischman (Zohar Strauss) who is awake and attentive as he takes each step into the arms of a younger male lover, the 22-year-old Ezri (Ran Danker). The entire neighborhood--an ultra-orthodox enclave in Tel Aviv--is watching, from every angle, and at all times.

It's a scrutiny that Tabakman mocks and excoriates, showing us a disapproving man staring down Aaron and Ezri as they sit side by side in public; but the staring man keeps retracing his steps, backwards and forwards, as though standing still and watching would be less rude than the pretense of simply passing by.

There's a pun at work, too, in Aaron's family name, literally "flesh man," a name suited to a butcher--or to a man of skin and ligament, bone and blood, a man subject to passion and desire--a man, in short, who is of the earth and given to earthly needs; in other words, a son of Adam, a human being.

Can human need and burning desire coexist with holy communal life? The question is given something of a hearing in a scene in which Aaron debates, with a rabbi, the notion that God intends people to be happy, and does not require them to suffer or deprive themselves. The rabbi is probably not thinking about same-sex desires as he's positing this argument, but Aaron--who counters with a rebuttal--surely is; and while Ezri is willing sooner than Aaron is to follow through on the attraction they both feel, it's Aaron who stops Ezri's first attempt to seduce him, telling him that the true challenge is to live according to higher standards.

But the neighborhood is less philosophical. Ezri is quickly scapegoated and labeled as a troublemaker who brings "grief to righteous men," and why Aaron--married with children--is righteous, even as he discovers that Ezri brings him to life, while Ezri is not, is hard to fathom. Is it because Ezri is not from the area? Is it because he remains unmarried? Or is it because he won't make the same compromises that Aaron does, as when Aaron joins others who burst into a young man's apartment and warn him off seeing a young woman whose father has matched to another young man?

This sort of direct action morality is evidently part and parcel of religious life here--an even rougher band called the Modesty Guard are evidently also part of the neighborhood. When Aaron persists in employing Ezri at his shop and bringing him to temple, a group of rabbinical students show up to threaten Aaron with a boycott, and worse; they say that they are afraid for the souls of their children.

Is religious life a matter of holiness or conformity? Is it the individual--with his full suite of needs and conscience--who matters, or should the group's need for the reassurance of uniform conduct and belief be prioritized? An image of ritual cleansing becomes a metaphor for how a man's soul sinks and suffocates--perhaps the most poignant of this film's many dual meanings.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Assistant Arts Editor. He also reviews theater for WBUR. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.

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