Q Fest features Israeli film

The Israeli/French/German film “Eyes Wide Open” is a tale of temptation and forbidden love in Jerusalem’s ultra-Orthodox community. The temptation comes not from a woman but a young man.

This Hebrew and Yiddish-language drama, shown with English subtitles, tackles the difficult subject of homosexuality in the Orthodox community with skill and respect. The topic previously had been the subject of the 2001 Israeli documentary “Trembling Before God.” However, the material is still so sensitive that although director Haim Tabakman received assistance from several members of the Orthodox community in the making of this film, all of them declined to be credited.

Aaron (Zohar Strauss) is a respected member of Jerusalem’s ultra-Orthodox community, a middle-aged butcher and family man with a wife Rivka (Haifa-born actress Tinkerbell) and four young children. Ran Danker, an Israeli singer/actor who is a big star in his homeland, plays Ezri, a handsome young Orthodox man who takes refuge in Aaron’s butcher shop during a rainstorm. Ezri explains that he is a yeshiva student looking for a new yeshiva, and is also in need of a job. Aaron brushes him off but when he later encounters the student sleeping in a coffee shop, the kind-hearted butcher offers the young man a job, and a sleeping room over the butcher shop.

Aaron is a very religious, serious and responsible man, who lives a quiet, settled life in a comfortable apartment. He is a doting father and has a fond but reserved relationship with his younger, golden-haired wife Rivka. The butcher takes a fatherly interest in the displaced 22-year-old Ezri, bringing him along to his synagogue, taking him home for Sabbath dinner and training him in the business.

When Aaron overhears a conversation that reveals Ezri is gay, surprisingly, Aaron does nothing. Aaron’s friend Rabbi Vaisben (Tzahi Grad) warns the butcher of rumors about the newcomer. He urges Aaron to send Ezri away but Aaron insists he can help the young man change, and sees this challenge as a religious opportunity for himself. Instead Aaron succumbs to a seductive Ezri’s advances, and begins to neglect his family and community. Suspicions grow and rumors fly, disrupting his comfortable life.

Visually, the film is hauntingly beautiful, filled with artistically composed shots, and an attractive, gifted cast of actors. The story is moving as well, with a script that respects the individuals in the tale and their community while taking on a difficult, hidden issue. The characters are all fully developed human beings, with strengths and weaknesses, and there is an avoidance of facile stereotyping and an openness to consider the complexities of the issue. The director applies an even-handed touch as he frankly yet tastefully presents the material.

The acting is very good, with the serious-minded, unsmiling Aaron presented by Strauss as a man caught in a dilemma, sincerely trying to live a righteous life close to God while still being an honest person. Danker offers a strong performance as Ezri — seductive, vulnerable yet confident, all at the same time. The improbably named Tinkerbell delivers a touching performance as the devoted wife Rivka, confused and anguished at what is happening to her marriage but supportive of her husband’s decisions. Tzahi Grad offers a nuanced performance as Aaron’s rabbi, who is also anguished at what is happening but stands by his friend.

An entry at the Cannes film festival last year, “Eyes Wide Open” is a worthy, moving film that manages to take on a controversial topic tastefully and effectively while still working well as a movie drama. It will be shown Sunday, March 28, at 9:15 p.m. at the Tivoli Theater. Tickets are available at the box office and more information is at the fest website www.stlqfest.org.

‘Eyes Wide Open’

WHAT: Israeli/French/German film which is part of Cinema St. Louis’ Q Fest, which runs March 28-31 at the Tivoli Theatre and shows features, shorts and documentary films with GLBT themes.

WHEN: 9:15 p.m. Sunday, March 28

WHERE: Tivoli Theatre, 6350 Delmar Boulevard.

HOW MUCH: Individual tickets are $10 each or $8 for students and Cinema St. Louis members with valid, current photo ID, available at the box office.

MORE INFO: Visit www.stlqfest.org.