The Festival of Jewish Cinema hits town this month, and this year’s 20th anniversary festival has a bumper crop of films on offer, with a few of particular interest to GLBTI viewers, Jewish or not.
Arguably the queer highlight of the festival is Israeli director Haim Tabakman’s Eyes Wide Open (Einaym Pkuhot in Hebrew). Set in Jerusalem, it tells the story of Aaron Fleishman (Zohar Shtrauss), an ultra-Orthodox kosher butcher whose simple, ultra-religious world and traditional home life — he’s married with four children — is turned upside down by the arrival of a mysterious young yeshiva student, Ezri (Ran Danker).
As the two spend time together, they discover a mutual attraction that leaves Fleishman ostracised by his tight-knit community, and in danger of losing everything — his job, his home, even his family.
The film debuted at the Cannes Film Festival this year, and it’s certainly a powerful examination of the oppressive social forces that can come into play in ultra-Orthodox Jewish society — particularly the scene in which Fleishman is bullied by the ‘Decency Police’, a real-life squad of enforcers who take it upon themselves to keep Orthodox ‘problems’ out of the eyes of the world and the secular police.
Not only that, it provides a fascinating snapshot into daily life for ultra-Orthodox Jews in Israel — the daily religious rituals and traditions which are alien to many of us here in Australia.
It’s a slow-moving film, but the languid pace and long, dialogue-free scenes only serve to heighten the ever-growing sexual tension between the two men. While it’s not giving too much away to say that a gay love story set in the world of Orthodox Jerusalem was never going to have a completely happy ending, it’s still a fascinating glimpse at the underground nature of gay life in another part of the world.
A somewhat lighter option for queer viewers is the French romantic comedy He’s My Girl, a sequel to the 1998 film Man is a Woman. Director Jean-Jacques Zilbermann revisits the characters Simon Eskenazy, a gay clarinet player, and Rosalie, his French-born, New York-raised ex-wife, 10 years after the first film left off.
Beleaguered by both his fellow musicians and ailing mother, Simon (Antoine de Caunes) longs to escape his family and work duties to spend more time romancing his lover Raphaël. His plans go out the window when Rosalie (Elsa Zylberstein) arrives unexpectedly from New York with their 10-year-old son and her whole Orthodox family (including her gay brother).
Chaos ensues for the frazzled muso until unlikely salvation comes in the form of the handsome Naïm, a young Arab by day and an irresistible femme fatale by night.
info: The Festival of Jewish Cinema runs from November 11-30 at Event Cinemas, Bondi Junction. www.jewishfilmfestival.com.au