Minyan arrives in selected cinemas and on Peccadillo Pod from 7th January 2022 and on DVD and streaming from 7th February 2022.
If I was to ask you to explain your community, what would you say? Some of you may talk about your family, others your friends, while for some, it is their religion, neighbourhood or identity. In truth, the notion of community is vague, difficult to pinpoint and often conflicted. After all, most of us belong to multiple communities, each reflecting a different side to our lives, loves and interests.
These communities of place, friendship, religion, family or identity may overlap or be poles apart depending on our choices and beliefs. For example, for some, their religious community may never interact with their community of LGBTQ+ identity. Here, an individual may keep communities separate due to a fear of conflict, or worse, expulsion. Eric Steel’s Minyan takes these themes and offers us a bold and beautiful exploration of sexuality, religion, community and belonging in 80s New York.
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Steel draws upon his own experiences growing up in New York during the 1980s in adapting the David Bezmozgis short story, initially set in Toronto. The year is 1986, the place Brighton Beach, New York. Here we meet David (Samuel H. Levine), a young Jewish man of Russian descent wandering through his late teenage life. However, David is also secretly gay, exploring his desires through cruising and the literature of James Baldwin, his multiple identities leading to two distinctly separate lives.
When David’s grandmother dies, his grandfather (Ron Rifkin) is forced to seek new accommodation. However, to secure a new apartment in a Jewish Retirement community, David and his Grandfather will need to become a part of the Synagogue’s Minyan ( a quorum of ten men required for worship). David agrees to the deal, allowing him to escape from his bullying father, an ex-boxer, and his mother’s over-bearing care.
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However, as David supports his grandfather, he also searches for inner peace as he attempts to navigate his religious beliefs and emerging sexual desires. Here David’s love of literature slowly opens up a world of gay cruising, which finally leads him to an East Village bar where he meets a bartender (Alex Hurt). Their casual meeting, the beginning of something far more steamy, as David finally explores the full range of his hidden desires while at the same time learning about the new horror that silently stalks the gay community.
Meanwhile, back at the retirement village, David uses his grandfather’s apartment as a bolt-hole while dutifully turning up for prayers as agreed. But when he meets his grandfather’s elderly neighbours, Herschel (Christopher McCann) and Itzik (Mark Margolis), David finds himself speculating over whether Herschel and Itzik’s relationship is more than friends. Are they, in fact, just like him?
Minyan offers us a journey embedded in the complexities of intersectionality. Here David swings wildly from religious study to drinking vodka on the New York streets as he searches for who he is and what he wants. The vibrant clarinet and strings of Krakauer and Tagg’s jazz-inspired score, reflecting the multiple identities he attempts to weave into one.
MINYAN © Peccadillo Pictures (2021)
The outstanding and nuanced central performance of Samuel H. Levine (The Inheritance) brings David’s journey to life alongside an expertly cast ensemble in a narrative that boldly explores themes of blood memory, community history and division. Here David’s identity is caught between one community rooted in the painful memories of the past and another rooted in the unfolding horror of AIDS. But can these communities and identities coexist?
Steel never shies away from discussions on the interface between identity, community and religion. The result of this is a delicate yet striking conversation on the multiple identities that make up every one of us. The film’s final message, one of hope in the ability of our diverse communities to coexist when they reach out, discuss and listen to their shared experiences. After all, discrimination, oppression, and persecution carry many faces and affect many communities regardless of ideological, sexual or religious differences.
Steel never shies away from discussions on the interface between identity, community and religion. The result of this is a delicate yet striking conversation on the multiple identities that make up every one of us.