Ostracism for homosexuality does not just face the American cowboys of the film, “Brokeback Mountain.” According to Sundance Festival selection, “Eyes Wide Open,” it affects ultra-Orthodox Jews in Israel.
Sensitively crafted by first-time director Haim Tabakman. “Eyes Wide Open” travels much the same territory of the Ang Lee Oscar winner, but with the struggle between sexual preference and religious obedience thrown in.
In “Eyes,” Aaron is a recognized tzaddik (righteous man) in his Jerusalem community, where he has inherited his recently deceased father’s butcher business. He has a beautiful wife, Rivka (Tinkerbel), and four darling children. His daily routine has him moving from family to work to synagogue, where he partakes of deep, sometimes ecstatic spiritual dialogue with the local rabbi and other righteous men.
Then, into his life comes a young, ultra-Orthodox drifter, Ezri (Ran Danker), who has a talent for drawing and not much more. Feeling charitable, Aaron takes him under his wing and lets him live at his store, grooming him as an apprentice butcher.
Strange sensations begin arising within Aaron, with which Ezri seems almost demonically familiar. The family man at first tries to resist them, but after a nude swim with Ezri at a spring outside the city, Aaron’s inner passion takes control.
A full-blown affair blossoms between the men. Lies and deceit come along with it. Aaron treats his wife, much like the stealthy way Heath Ledger’s character does his in “Brokeback.” “Modesty squads” of Torah students and elders comb the streets in near vigilantism to weed out “sinners.” These are groups that Aaron was once in and now is in their line of fire. After Ezri is beaten, Aaron is threatened with the boycott of his business. The rabbi confronts the butcher about his alleged indiscretion, which Aaron justifies by saying, “I feel alive now. I was dead before.”
It’s clear that if he continues with his gay lover, he won’t be alive much longer.
“Eyes Wide Open” is an insightful, well-acted drama about a subject most would not like to acknowledge, much less see on the silver screen.
Like “Brokeback Mountain,” it opens your eyes.