By Colin Wilson
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Eyes Wide Open

This article is over 11 years, 8 months old
Director: Haim Tabakman; Release date: 14 May
Issue 347

Eyes Wide Open is a story of love between men, set in Jerusalem’s Orthodox Jewish community. Aaron is married with children, the owner of a butcher’s shop inherited from his father. He takes on as his assistant Ezri, a drifter who has been thrown out of a religious school. Ezri brings a new fullness into Aaron’s previously austere life. He makes drawings, and he and Aaron drive outside Jerusalem and bathe in a spring together.

They begin a series of passionate sexual encounters – the first, spontaneously, in the shop’s walk-in fridge, and then in the room above it where Ezri now lives. This is a close community, where everyone knows why Ezri was thrown out of the religious school. People begin telling Aaron that “the boy doesn’t belong here” and that “he is a curse to righteous men”.

Aaron and Ezri continue their liaison, and posters appear in local streets condemning “a sinner in the neighbourhood”. A stone is thrown through the shop window, a group of religious students threaten Aaron, and Ezri is beaten up and finally leaves.

This is a quietly grim film, a mood reflected by night-time settings, heavy winter rains and long awkward silences. There’s little doubt it accurately reflects the dominant attitudes among Orthodox Jews in Jerusalem, who make up half of the Jewish population of the city. The Jerusalem Pride march typically needs the protection of thousands of police, and a member of one Orthodox sect stabbed three marchers in 2005.

The film is a fascinating portrayal of a world where religion permeates everything. Ezri is abused in the street as a sinner, a seducer, one with no place in the afterlife. Aaron and his wife sleep in separate beds for a week after her period and can only have sex after she has taken a ritual bath. Characters discuss why God created lust. It also shows positive aspects of the Orthodox community: the mutual support and the interest in study – for men, at least.

But the community’s togetherness is also stifling, fearful of outsiders, only accepting the righteous, the married. In one scene Aaron joins a group of men who visit a young man’s house to tell him not to call on his girlfriend – it has been decided she will marry someone else. If he doesn’t obey, they tell him, he’ll be beaten up. Aaron tells him – in an ironic reflection on his own situation – “You can’t do what you feel like here.”

Aaron describes his desire for Ezri in the words, “I was dead; now I’m alive.” In the final scene he returns alone to the spring where they bathed together. Then it suggested renewed life – in the ambiguous closing seconds of the film it evokes only death.

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