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Eyes Wide Open

Film director Tabakman talks to Dazed about new film Eyes Wide Open, a tale of gay love in a Jewish Orthodox community in Jerusalem

From first time director Haim Tabakman, Eyes Wide Open examines the conflicts that play out in respected local butcher Aaron Fleischman (as Zohar Strauss). Set in a Jewish Orthodox community in Jerusalem, the apparently happily married Aaron has his head turned when the young, enigmatic and rebellious Ezri (Ran Danker) enters his butcher’s. Enticed by his youthful spirit, Aaron offers Ezri a job. The fatherly arm Aaron places around Ezri shifts through the film as the sexual tension between them heightens. Aaron begins to neglect his family, and his wife, Rivka (Tinkerbell Ravit Rozen), becomes curious about his new young friend and his frequent late nights. A well-judged and thoughtful perspective on an Orthodox society, Eyes Wide Open is more about personal struggle as Aaron attempts to find synergy between his religious beliefs and his passions. The logical manner in which issues are discussed by himself and his rabbi makes for incredibly insightful and humorous cinema that balances tragedy and virtue within the same small space. Dazed Digital met up with director Haim Tabakman to talk about God, sin and everything in between.

Dazed Digital: What attracted you to the script?
Haim Tabakman: The invention of the story is not a complicated thing, it’s just a romance between two guys with hats, it happens all over the world. Basically I was looking for a project and this came my way and I had to ask myself if I could make something that was my own; something personal. I wanted to make something about understanding myself and so this is a really extreme test case for this kind of extreme social habitat. I could make a story about the blue people of Avatar, but still I’d make it something personal for myself.

DD: What were you wanting to say about life in an Orthodox community?
Haim Tabakman: This is not a judgemental film. I didn’t want this kind of villain engine inside the bulk of this plot. I wanted to show that everybody’s got their justifications to protect themselves and maintain the way that they live because it’s very meaningful. I didn’t come with a social flag or the gay flag, I just came to say something about a paradox; about life.

DD: So you weren’t criticising any aspect of their way of life?

Haim Tabakman: Yeah, why not. I’m criticising everything. Even the hero who I found very noble, I criticised him because when you see the film it’s got a side plot in the film where he is a victimiser not just the victim. So he’s using the same powers used against him to use against other people. Nothing is black or white, though it may seem so in the beginning. In addition I also had the chance to explore the merits this type of background gives you, the philosophical aspects, desire and passion between the worlds that bind you and religion is a great way to give something that is very valuable to your life.

DD: What resonated with you personally in the script?
Haim Tabakman: I personally try to keep this secret handshake with God. I keep very small things kosher in my life. I have this feeling of being afraid of God, not that I believe in him, but I think it’s important to keep something irrational inside you alive because you cannot really save yourself with science and progress and logic. I’m really interested in coming to peace.

DD: What’s the significance of the film’s title?

Haim Tabakman: The eyes in the title, Eyes Wide Open, in the first draft were the eyes of the society watching over the hero. I tried to turn the focus on to the eyes of the hero criticising himself, watching over himself and his eyes came to some new understanding so that he doesn’t want to shut his eyes. So I tried to make it less about a social drama and more about an inner struggle. Where the antagonist and the protagonist are actually the same person.

DD: How concerned were you with making sure the film authentically represented Orthodox society?
Haim Tabakman:I have to say that I’m not interested in realism. If you see the film, you know it’s very apparent that it’s stylised and it doesn’t have this ambition to be naturalistic. For me I think it’s honest because it’s personal. I only portray things that I know form my life. There’s no problem about the authenticity, though. I did use a lot of councillors on the set who saw cuts of the film, the film has been approved of not being a lie.

'Eyes Wide Open' is out now