Starring: Zohar Shtrauss, Ran Danker, Tinkerbell, Tzahi Grad, Isaac Sharry;
Directed by: Haim Tabakman;
Screenplay: Merav Doster;
MPAA Rating: NR;
Running Time: 91 Mins.;
Distributed by: New American Vision;
DVD Extras; NA
Aaron (Zohar Shtrauss) is a married father of four residing in Jerusalem's ultra-Orthodox Jewish community. One day, he hires Ezri (Israeli heartthrob Ran Danker) as an apprentice in his butcher shop. Soon, Aaron develops feelings for Ezri and before long is neglecting his family, his job and his community in a culture where to do such things is to risk one's very existence.
Reminiscent of Amos Gitane's "Kadosh" and David Kolach's "My Father My Lord," which director Haim Tabakman edited, "Eyes Wide Open" is a sober, thoughtful and sensitive film that brings vividly to life the pros and cons of living in such an insular community, a community where loyalty and family are of utmost importance and celebrated while disobedience and disloyalty often have severe consequences.
It is the ways in which Aaron's community works, first quietly then with great force, to rein him in that are among the film's most disturbing and maddening scenes as we see Aaron's passion give way to overwhelming guilt, shame and inner torment. His response to wrestling with his own inner demons and the actions of his community will leave you thinking and feeling and discussing for days after viewing the film.
While some may fault "Eyes Wide Open" for its seemingly subtle or tame approach to such a controversial subject, Tabakman's approach based upon a script by Merav Doster wisely avoids sensationalizing the taboo subject and, instead, treats it with an almost meditative spirit that respects both the intimate nature of the subject and the inherently intimate nature of living in the midst of an ultra-Orthodox Jewish community.
Intimately lensed by Axel Schneppat with solid tech work across the board, "Eyes Wide Open" allows the story to unfold without overtly taking sides, though Tabakman has been quoted as saying "I really want to help break the silence, to be part of the evolution of the orthodox world." Behind two strong performances from its co-leads, "Eyes Wide Open" is as emotionally satisfying as it is intellectually stimulating. It is difficult, if not impossible to ache for Aaron, portrayed by Shtrauss in such a way that one almost feels like Shtrauss is peeling away the layers of an onion and then, with a mix of love and regret, reconstructing the onion itself. Kudos as well to Danker, already an Israeli favored son, for his passionate and multi-layered performance that could have easily become simply an exercise in wanton lust.
An official selection at the 2009 Cannes Film Festival that had its North American premiere at Toronto International Film Festival, "Eyes Wide Open" has been picked up for a limited arthouse release by New American Vision. "Eyes Wide Open" opens on Friday, February 5th, 2009 at New York's Cinema Village and is currently playing during the NY Jewish Film Festival. For more information on "Eyes Wide Open," visit the New American Vision website
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic