Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Gay Jews in Love

Have you seen "Eyes Wide Open?" It's this extraordinary, beautifully minimalistic Israeli film about a married father of two who works as a butcher in an Orthodox town in Jerusalem, then falls -- hard -- for a hunky young drifter who winds up staying in his shop. I'm aware of the film because I'm doing preview coverage of the Philadelphia QFest, which kicks off Thursday. "Eyes" screened at Cannes in 2009 and saw extremely limited release in February, but slipped right past my radar. It's a work of art, and one of the better movies of 2010.

There need to be more filmmakers like Haim Tabakman, who makes his feature debut and shows what a quality gay film is supposed to look like (sorry, I'm pretty anti the sexed-up stuff that's passed as good gay cinema over the last decade or so). "Eyes" is executed with amazing grace, told in primarily visual terms, and bolstered by performances that are more about body language than spoken conviction (though that is flawless, too). As Aaron the butcher, Zohar Strauss wears a sea of emotion on his face, which reflects the conflict between his religious beliefs and his carnal desires. It's not your typical closeted performance; it's remarkably shaded.

Tabakman's technique is sneaky in its greatness. The filmmaking style isn't showy, and the realization of how immersed you are in this little world is alarming, as are the rather brilliant compositions sprinkled throughout. (One shot, involving a bus, a reflection, and a group of guys on a sidewalk, actually made me gasp.) And the way in which the sexual tension is stretched out like a frail rubber band, waiting -- dying-- to snap, is crazy intense. For these reasons (and for stupidly obvious reasons), the film has earned comparisons to "Brokeback Mountain." It's a worthy cousin.

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