Eric Steele ventures into narrative cinema with a lackluster adaptation of David Bezmozgis’ queer coming-of-age story.
JUdaism states that in order to institute a synagogue, ten adults must come together to form a minyan – a traditional prayer circle. In more orthodox strains, these adults must be male and over the age of 13.
Although simple by definition, the principle is far from being so in practice, especially in the Brooklyn of the 1980s where the Jewish community was made up of immigrants still facing post-war traumas that prevented faithful followers from return to the teachings of the Torah.
Having previously directed two documentaries, The Bridge in 2006 and Kiss the Water in 2013, Minyan marks Eric Steel’s first adventure in narrative cinema. In this queer coming-of-age drama adapted from the eponymous short story by David Bezmozgis, 17-year-old David (Samuel H Levine) is stuck somewhere between two island identities as a Russian Jew and a young homosexual who reconciles with her sexuality at the height of the AIDS crisis.
Neither quite here nor there, the adolescent spends his days between parallel but contrasting spots. In the early hours of the morning, he performs menial tasks in the next apartment shared by two elderly Jewish men whose relationship floats on a heavy cloud of unspoken speculation.
As the hours progress, David heads to a local gay bar, tentatively testing the waters as what was once a meager pool of inner passion slowly stretches out into a wide, vast ocean.
The steel film is drained: colored; depth; emotional. Everything is a bit surgical, a calculated tale that tries to create an existential rumination about life and yet feels lifeless. Dilapidated apartments and icy beaches merge under an irresistible score reminiscent of erotic thrillers of the 90s – the loud saxophone desperately seeking to mask the omnipresent blandness.
For a film built on the importance of the unsaid, Minyan too often relies on overexposure. Steel ranges from the harshness of the religious school to adultery caught in the act to funerals stretched with all the subtlety of an elephant on a unicycle.
When the director sometimes allows the characters to digest the immensity of their struggles, seeking a heartwarming camaraderie in the few who relate to the isolating specificity of their predicament, the film comes to life.
This is even truer of the exploration of the metaphor built around the minyan, a metaphor beautifully enveloped in a primary need for companionship – whether through obligatory traditions or natural aspirations.
“Thieves, adulterers, homosexuals… I take them all. Without them, we would never have our minyan, ”says the rabbi when David finally asks the compelling questions. The survival of the collective depends on the integration of the individual – whoever he is.
It’s hard not to stay hopeful that at some point Minyan will reach an emotional peak of glorious magnitude. Perhaps, we eagerly say to ourselves, Acts 1 and 2 aren’t bland – they’re just slow. Maybe all the loose ties will be tied up in a burst of bountiful inspiration. May be. Alas, all that’s left is a nagging hunger for what it might have been.
Reference of the Article-post – lwlies