The Understated Eyes Wide Open
The subject of gay Orthodox Jews isn't new to film, but it's typically the stuff of documentaries (2001's Trembling Before G-d, among others). So Haim Tabakman's feature directorial debut Eyes Wide Open deserves not just political points, but artistic ones as well: overused adjectives like "patient" and "understated" are perfectly justified here. The simple story of devout family man and Jerusalem butcher Aaron (Zohar Shtrauss), who falls from grace via a love affair with hired hand Ezri (Ran Danker), Eyes abstains from all forms of shouting, dramatic excess or third-act eruptions of tragic violence. There are a few missteps: Aaron's profession means a few too many symbolic shots of meat being cut, and Aaron and Ezri's exile from the community is too neatly paralleled by a parent-unapproved straight couple's similar shunning. Mostly, though, it wins with excellent performances: Strauss never overplays his character's internal tension, nor does Danker camp up his youthful virility. Cinematographer Alex Schneppat frames the film gorgeously, and Tabakman knows where the occasional showy effect can be inserted for emphasis. Not groundbreaking, but definitely a cut above.
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