Jerusalem. A kosher butcher with a huge family. A hunky Yeshiva student wandering the streets with all of his belongings on his back. Forbidden love. Stir them together, and you have one of the best movies of 2010.
I know it's only February, but I won't be budged.
Superb acting, a nearly flawless screenplay, and focused direction make Haim Tabakman's feature debut, Eyes Wide Open a stirring film experience.
From the opening moments, you are overpowered. Possibly from having seen the film's poster beforehand, you know already two Orthodox Jewish chaps are going to fall in love. But how will they take their first steps towards amour?
After all, in the Orthodox Jewish community of Mea Shearim, homosexuality is considered an abomination, worthy of a stoning. If you can't believe that some sects of Judaism don't embrace men embracing men, watch Sandi Dubowski's award-winning documentary Trembling Before G-d or read Evan Fallenberg's touching novel, Light Fell. This intolerance all stems from just two verses in the Torah (Lev. 18:22 and 20:13). As Rabbi Steven Greenberg notes in Wrestling with God & Men: Homosexuality in the Jewish Tradition, according to belief, "the security of the family, the community, and even the cosmos might be threatened if men [have] sex with men. [However,] sex between women [is] also deemed a violation of the tradition, albeit in a much less threatening way."
In other words, when Ellen and Portia get it on, breath easy. However, if Adam Lambert ever shtupped Lance Bass, the moon might come crashing down on the corner deli.
Anyway, Adam (Zohar Shtrauss), with the death of his father, realizes he needs a helper at his shop. One man can't schlep a carcass of beef alone, so he puts up a 'Help Wanteda' sign in his window.
Meanwhile, Ezri (Ran Danker), the scholar, is wandering the streets of Jerusalem during a rainstorm. He's just been thrown out of a Yeshiva, and the gent he's in love with is refusing to have any contact with him. Why not stop off at the butcher shop, dry off, and make a phone call? One thing leads to another, and Ezri is soon handling the chicken cadavers and Adam, too.
Oy vey! Wait 'til the community and the Morality Police hear about this. But for Adam, is this love really a sin? Didn't his rabbi preach, "He who dwells in abstinence is a sinner. A man who prevents himself from drinking wine is a sinner.... He shouldn't cause himself sorrow.... Why did God create the world? For the catharsis of the soul.... We have a mission. The Lord didn't create broken tools. There is no such thing as broken."
So didn't God create homosexuals? And if so, shouldn't they love each other? These are not then broken men. But can a pair of in-love souls stand up against a whole intolerant community? And what about the needs of a wife and a family?
Tender, affecting, brave, and beautifully wrought, Eyes Wide Open is a film romantics will be watching over and over again. This is indeed a blessed event. - Brandon Judell
Mr. Judell is featured in Rosa von Praunheim's forthcoming documentary New York Memories. In the spring, he'll be teaching "The Image of the Jew in Post-World War II European Cinema" and "Gay and Lesbian Literature" at The City College of New York. He has written on film for The Village Voice, indieWire, Detour, and The Advocate, and is anthologized in Cynthia Fuchs's Spike Lee Interviews (University Press of Mississippi).