Eyes Wide Open, the unusually subtle yet eloquent debut of Israeli director Haim Tabakman, focuses on Aaron (Zohar Strauss), a family man and devout Orthodox Jew who owns a butcher shop in Jerusalem and enjoys respect within his community.
When the handsome young drifter Ezri (Ran Danker) shows up at his store seeking shelter and perhaps employment, Aaron generously grants him both. Aaron’s kindness is an act of decency toward someone in need, but right from the start – via simple gestures such as a glance that lingers a beat too long – we get a sense of a mutual unspoken attraction. Suddenly, Aaron’s placid, content life is thrown into turmoil.
The sexual pull is taboo on a number of levels, from the men’s observance of their faith to the fact that Aaron has a wife and four children. Before Ezri walked through his door, Aaron had apparently never even entertained gay notions. But his sudden, unexpected longing stirs something in his soul: Lust, forbidden as it is, doubles as a life force that cannot be denied.
Eyes Wide Open, written by Merav Doster, is occasionally reminiscent of Brokeback Mountain in the way in which its protagonists choose not to speak directly about the feelings that buffet them. But the film’s main focus is on how Aaron interprets everything that is happening through his faith (“Why did God create lust? For the catharsis of the soul,” he tells Ezri) while struggling to maintain his reserve.
The tug of war between God’s will and mortal desire are at the crux of Eyes Wide Open, and although it doesn’t provide definitive answers, its ending – which can be interpreted in a couple of ways – implies that even the most stolidly devout man is not above succumbing to temptation, regardless of the consequences. We are, after all, merely human.
Cast: Zohar Strauss, Ran Danker, Tzahi Grad, Isaac Sharry.
Director: Haim Tabakman.
Screenwriter: Merav Doster.
Producers: Isabelle Attal, David C. Barrot, Michael Eckelt.
A New American Vision release. Running time: 90 minutes. In Hebrew with English subtitles. Sexual situations, brief nudity, adult themes. Opens Friday Nov. 5 in Miami-Dade only: Coral Gables Art Cinema.