A married, Orthodox Jewish father of four falls in love with a twenty two year-old male student.
You might not necessarily assume that an Isreali film about forbidden gay love in the ultra-orthodox Jewish community of Jerusalem would be full of meat gags. And yet, as Aaron and Ezri wrestle with an almost insurmountably large, phallic hunk of beef, and Aaron’s suspicious wife tries to both intimidate and punish with the size of her meat order, the otherwise tense, restrained and dangerous subtext becomes, for a moment, funny.
Eyes Wide Open , directed by Haim Tabakman and starring Zohar Strauss and Ran Danker, tells the story of a respectable, religious butcher, who has an affair with a young, handsome, wandering student seeking work in his shop. Even in this rigidly homosocial society, where men fraternise almost exclusively with men, where men drink and sing and bathe together, the relationship that builds up between the two becomes the focus for suspicion, fear and eventually violence.
For many of us, the life that goes on behind the doors, curtains and costumes of ultra-orthodox religious communities is as intriguing as it is mysterious. Eyes Wide Open manages to invite the viewer in to the idiosyncratic bedrooms, kitchens and prayer rooms of Jerusalem’s orthodox community, while also revealing the universality of lust, love and grief. The film shows the compassion of the Jewish community, as well as the narrow-minded thugishness of some of its members.
While the two male leads, like the film itself, are utterly convincing and perfectly pitched, it is Tinkerbell Ravit Rozen’s performance as Rivka, Aaron’s wife, that steals the show. Her quiet, loyal demeanour is undercut by those bold acts of meat-based rebellion, by her red-haired seduction and by her maternal strength.
Running in parallel to the homosexual love story is a pre-marital relationship between the daughter of a fellow shop owner and her boyfriend. Aaron, in an act of apparent hypocrisy, is brought in to warn the boyfriend off his lover. Transgression between a man and a woman is, it seems, just as dangerous as that between men. In fact, in a religious community where homosexuality is not officially recognised, pre-marital heterosexuality is dealt with, arguably, more fiercely.
Through these two relationships, as well as the greater relationship between all of Jerusalem’s ultra-orthodox Jewish community, Eyes Wide Open treads a delicate and fascinating path between fraternity and sexuality; between the homosocial and the homosexual.