Arriving in the UK on video on demand platforms this week, and in select cinemas, is the LGBTQ+ drama, Minyan. The movie – from director Eric Steel – is based on a short story by David Bezmozgis, and stars Samuel H. Levine, Christopher McCann, Ron Rifkin, and Mark Margolis.
Set in New York, during the mid-1980s, Minyan tells the story of David, the son of Russian Jewish immigrants. The film follows David as he attempts to find his place in the world, which in turn leads him to befriend an elderly closeted couple, called Herschel and Itzik.
Through his experiences within his own community, as well as his relationship with his grandfather, and the friendship he develops with the elderly couple, David grows as a person. But his development is not easy, and balancing his sexuality with the needs of his religion, results in a confusing time for the young man.
Minyan is an intimate movie and one which feels very personal. The picture tells a story that largely zeroes in on one key character, while using its run-time to explore multiple themes.
Chief amongst these themes is the exploration of a young man’s sexuality, and how his orientation is conveyed in an era when being homosexual was not widely accepted. This means a great deal of this movie looks at queer life under the radar, providing an understanding of how relationships and connections were often formed at the time.
The idea of looking at a closeted life in this way is then juxtaposed against a Jewish background, and what this means for someone from the LGBTQ+ community. The theme of Jewish history is also explored, with specific reference to the horrors of the holocaust, and this creates some interesting conversations and discussions in itself.
Weaved throughout these themes the movie also touches upon the idea of growing old and becoming somewhat displaced – something which sadly can become a huge part of the LGBTQ+ story. And then there is the shadow of HIV and AIDS, which is subtly added into the narrative, bringing its own sorrows and implications along the way.
All-in-all there’s a lot going on in Minyan, and yet while these themes and ideas are readily available for all to see, so much of the way the information is presented is very understated. In fact, this is a rather understated movie, which let’s events play out as they might in ordinary life – at a slower pace and with time to carefully consider what is being said.
This isn’t a film keen to bash audiences over the head with big scenes of drama, or huge sweeping moments. It is instead a film which is happy to lay out its story and let the audience come to it at their own pace.
At the heart of the film is David, as played by Samuel H. Levine, and in keeping with the tone and feel of the movie, Levine provides a subtle performance throughout. It is one that proves to be very effective, with the actor conveying a range of emotions through his body language, perhaps more so than through the dialogue.
Even during scenes where David has little to say, it is very clear to understand how the character is feeling and this is because of what Levine brings to the screen. His performance not only helps to provide a greater understanding of the character, but also really helps to embed him in the world that he exists in.
Backing up Levine is a strong supporting casting, as well as some solid cinematography. The film also has a good score, with music from David Krakauer and Kathleen Tagg, and a generally great aesthetic which helps to recreate the look and feel of ‘80s New York.
Minyan won’t be for everyone, and I believe some may be put off by its pace, but for the right audience it brings something interesting to the table. There are certainly enough ideas in the movie for audiences to connect with, and I believe its strength lies in the conversations it is willing to have.
This film pushes into new territory, and the end result is a picture which opens up a dialogue about queer life within the Jewish community. This in turn presents a different perspective for LGBTQ+ cinema, and one which I welcome.