Film, Film Review

NEWFEST REVIEW: Minyan (2020) dir. Eric Steel

A Jewish teenager looks for his place in the world in this quiet drama


Jewish teenager David (Samuel H. Levine) is a bit lost. He lives in Brooklyn in the 1980s in a stuffy household, spending his days at school and with his grandfather (Ron Rifkin). He seems to be aware that he is different from his classmates, but he doesn’t have the words for it. David observes men follow each other into the bathroom of the library where he studies, he watches male encounters near Brighton Beach, and he has eyes on a bartender who not-so-subtly reads Giovanni’s Room on the job. David hides his desires from his family and community out of fear, but things start to change when he befriends his elderly neighbors, who are more than roommates.

Minyan is a confident narrative film debut from documentarian Eric Steel, who directed the infamous The Bridge (which I have not seen, but which… sounds like a lot). This is a film about quiet contradictions and finding your identity among things that seem too big to ever change. Samuel H. Levine is the perfect avatar for Steel’s intentions; his face can shift with such subtlety and speed, his emotional devastation could go entirely unnoticed by those around him while the audience sees into his soul. David is a teen of few words and his quiet contemplation of his elders and the gay men he meets on the town can make for slow going, but Minyan asks you to be patient with him. His journey of self-discovery is going to take far longer than the film’s runtime.

While sexy, especially in the sequence where David loses his virginity, the film does not indulge in sensuality the way one might expect. We learn more about David’s relationship to his grandfather than we do his relationship with his new gay friends. David is still a repressed person that may need to focus on his budding alcoholism before diving into the world of gay sex, but no one’s path of self-discovery is linear. Minyan is about navigating disparate identities and trying to find you among them.

Dir. Eric Steel
118 min

Minyan is available to stream through NewFest now until Tuesday, 10/27 .

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