Movies: Eyes Wide Open * * * *
(15A, limited release)
The second of two Israeli films that open this week, Eyes Wide Open is for me both less flashy and more accomplished than Samuel Maoz's Lebanon, which is bound to attract more attention. There are no tanks or bombs in this movie, just an incredibly powerful sense of place and atmosphere, and a very ordinary human dilemma. Common to both films is Zohar Shtrauss, an excellent character actor with an extraordinary screen presence who in Eyes Wide Open plays a devout family man whose life is jeopardised by an act of charity.
Aaron is a devout Orthodox Jew, and at the start of Haim Tabakman's drama we see him open up his late father's abandoned butcher shop in central Jerusalem and begin running it. As he's a pillar of his community, business is soon booming, but one day he is troubled by the sudden appearance of a clueless young man called Ezri (Ran Danker). Also Orthodox, Ezri seems lost and steps in to shelter from the rain. When he loiters, Aaron gets suspicious and kicks him out, but later he repents this harshness and offers him a job as an assistant.
Aaron grows fond of the boy, and introduces him to his wife and children, and when he hears rumours about Ezri's character and sexuality he dismisses them as malicious gossip.
Ezri draws and seems possessed of a soulful gentleness, and, almost without his noticing it, Aaron falls hopelessly in love with him. They begin a physical affair, but Aaron's dutiful wife is getting suspicious, and so are the community's elders.
Eyes Wide Open uses Aaron's dilemma as a means of stepping inside an ultra-Orthodox Jewish community: the all-enveloping fraternal spirit is appealing, but the vaguely sinister hierarchy not so much, and the dreary democracy of the dark suits and ringlets suggest that duty and individuality are hard things to balance.
Tabakman, though, fights hard to make no judgments, and uses sound, silence and the claustrophobic Jerusalem backstreets to tell his story most eloquently.