Haim Tabakman “Eyes Wide Open” (2009)

Aharon’s father has just died and he is now in charge of the kosher butchery in a haredi neighborhood in the center of Jerusalem. His life unfolds quietly until Erzi, a younger man, enters in his shop taking refuge from the heavy rain. Since the young man has nowhere to go and knows nobody in Jerusalem, Aharon employs him at the butchery. Although Ezri’s involvement in the butchery is rather limited, Aharon soon begins to enjoy his presence like a fresh breeze. As they start to discover each other, their relationship will deepen into a romance squeezed in the narrow social environment that they dwell.

Eyes_Wide_Open_Poster_Ansicht_05The movie is a story of overcoming desires. In words of the butcher, God is testing their strength and they must prove their worth by resisting the carnal temptation. In this view, the butchery becomes a metaphor that opposes the bodily desires of the flesh and the ritual spirituality of kosher meat. But once the rumors of corruption begun to circulate and the community suspects of their “sins,” the butchery loses its religious privilege. Naked bodies aren’t kosher in that neighborhood.

The social control that the community exercises over the individual in this haredi environment keeps every member in their right places. Erzi, a stranger of doubtful reputation, is not welcomed in the local synagogue and the young members of the community rebuke Aharon while threaten his business and his life.

But this social vigilance is not only a matter of same sex relationships or sex outside the marriage. Here, the community becomes a source of social control without the need of personifying into a specific religious figure. Even Aharon wields the sentence: “You can’t do whatever you want here, you know that, right?” when they have to warn an unruly young member of the community. The movie opens a window to the exercise of authority and the imposition of daily normality.Eyes-Wide-Open-006

The rhythm of this film is accurately defined and transports the audience to the center of uncertainty, the crossroad between desire and proscription. Gazes and silences become the most important narrative element when words can’t express feelings anymore. And, like life itself, half of the scenes happen out of screen, the spectator can only guess what the characters are thinking or suffering. Probably not even they know.

It is Aharon’s eyes those that are wide open, clear blue eyes that contrast with the only black-and-white robes allowed in the neighborhood, as if he was searching for something else that can’t be easily grasped with his sight. Is he looking for a way out of his neighborhood? A path to feel closer to God? or just a bit of love?

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