Sunday, 30 May 2010
Eyes Wide Open
We had a date night planned last night, but nothing much to do - my husband vetoed Streetdance, I vetoed Sex and the City 2 and neither of us fancied Four Lions or Hot Tub Time Travel.
So the choice was between a movie about the early life of Mussolini and an Israeli film, Eyes Wide Open about a gay affair between two men in the Orthodox Jewish community in Jerusalem. I didn’t enjoy the last film we saw about Italian politics (if you were disturbed by snoring during a showing of Divo at the Screen on the Green, Islington last year, then it was probably me) we opted for the latter. ‘I don’t think we’ll need to book,’ said my husband. ‘It’s a bit of a special interest film.’
Anyway, Eyes Wide Open was a quite extraordinary experience. It’s slow and underwritten; a deadly serious film with flickers of humour. There are sections which drag, and there’s only one explosive moment when someone says exactly what’s in his heart - but that very reserve makes it a film that stayed with me, making me think long after the movie has ended.
It’s the story of Ezri and Aaron. Ezri, little more than a teenager, has been thrown out of his yeshiva (religious college) and is homeless and jobless. Aaron, married with four sons, takes pity on him and gives him a job and somewhere to stay at the butcher’s shop he has just inherited from his dead father. Slowly, a relationship developes between the men. And gradually the viewer realises that everyone in the claustrophobic community around them, including Aaron’s wife, knows exactly what is going on.
It’s that realisation that makes me want to see the film again. At first you think that Aaron is unaware of the nature of Ezri’s love for another man - that he is innocent and unworldly behind his big beard. But in fact Aaron - and everyone else - realises instantly that Ezri is gay, and the film is about the effect that knowledge has on a society held together by strict rules, enforced by the ‘morality police.’
I’ve seen a few reviews of the film suggesting that it’s about the homophobic nature of religious groups, particularly Orthodox Jews. But as we drove home from the cinema there were two stories on the news. One was about the gay couple in Malawi sentenced to hard labour for announcing their engagement. Pressure from the international community - Elton John, Madonna, the UN Secretary General – had forced their release. Liberal Western values had saved the day.
And yet…and yet…there was the story of David Laws. A government minister for 16 days before his own actions brought him down. David Laws was so keen to maintain the fiction that his landlord was just that, even though they had been lovers for nine years, that he wrongly claimed his rent as legitimate expenses. Once this was revealed by the Daily Telegraph, he painfully ‘outed’ himself and resigned.
Can you really call a sexual relationship a ‘partnership’ when it is kept a secret from family and friends? And if the relationship was really secret, how come it was revealed so quickly?
David Laws’ secrecy and shame made him break the rules. Now he is paying the price. The Daily Telegraph, like the morality police of Mea Shearim in Eyes Wide Open, knew his secret. And I asked myself, how does our liberal Western society work? Are we different enough from the religious communities of Malawi and Jerusalem? What was David Laws so scared of? And will he feel liberated now - or unbearably exposed?
(You can watch the trailer with English subtitles here )