Starring: Samuel H. Levine, Ron Rifkin, Christopher McCann, Mark Margolis, Alex Hurt
Director: Eric Steel
David (Levine) is seventeen and a good yeshiva student, living in Brooklyn in the 1980s. Though there are plenty of problems at home, he has a strong relationship with his grandfather (Rifkin – Alias, Brothers & Sisters), who is trying to ensure he stays within their stifling religious society. At night he sneaks out to drink in gay bars, where he meets hunky barman Bruno (Hurt) and begins a love affair, while befriending two closeted old men back in his community (McCann & Margolis – Breaking Bad). On a journey of self-discovery, David begins to learn that his sexuality and religion need not be mutually exclusive.
A flawlessly dressed period piece, this is a remarkably realistic slice of the 1980s, with its dusty brown palate complimented by perfectly selected locations. The frame feels grubby and drained, spiced up only by brief forays into the New York nightlife with an authentic soundtrack to match. And speaking of music, the entire film is underpinned by melancholic shofars, complimenting scenes of sometimes unsettling muscular religious obeisance.
To David, escaping his world and discovering the Gay Community is exciting and exotic, but to Bruno, who sees the AIDS Crisis raging around him, there is nothing enviable about it. Much is made of the commune’s Eastern European roots, with many of them having survived or fled the Holocaust, but the American Dream that his grandparents fulfilled is stifling to David. But, as he begins to learn, his cultural identity is not one that needs to be fled from just so that he can be a gay man too.
This isn’t the first – or will it be the last – film about gay men growing up in a Jewish Community. What is refreshing about the depiction of this Ashkenazi society is that, for once, they are not placed at odds with LGBT+ people. The obstacles that stand in David’s way do not come from his culture, but instead provides the – albeit vivid – backdrop to his life. And the older men that he befriends add colour to this world, proving that David is absolutely not the only homosexual within their minyan (a group of a minimum of ten men needed to conduct liturgies with the Torah).
Though fairly slow and lacking much of a narrative, this is an effective character piece creating a picture-perfect snapshot of ‘80s normalcy that feels both suffocating and a breath of fresh air. With a compellingly nuanced and enigmatic performance from Levine, this is the best Jewish LGBT+ film since Disobedience.
UK Release: 7th January 2022 in cinemas, released by Peccadillo Pictures.