Young Mendyís (Rehany) religious studies stall out
regularly as his mind wanders down various hormone-driven
alleys. His mind is trying to tell him to get physical, and
after a while, even his rabbi tells him that physicality might
clear his head and allow him to return to yeshiva able to
concentrate. So Mendy dupes his parents into giving their
blessing to his journey across Israel to Jerusalem, where,
instead of regaining his religious inspiration, he visits
titty bars, falls in love, and takes a job in an all-too-colorful
tavern called Mikeís Place.
Director Eitan Gorlin has a Mikeís Place in his past. He
tended bar for a while after having chucked yeshivot. The
Holy Land has its origins in his experiences. A large
part of what this movie has going for it lies in the juxtaposition
of what is fleshly and carnal with a city that is most widely
associated with holiness. It is entrancing to see red neon
Hebrew lettering that one cannot read, but that clearly says
ďlive nude girls,Ē in the midst of the cobblestone streets
and ancient walls and buildings of the holy city.
Mendy too is a mass of juxtapositions. His body wonít let
his mind alone at yeshiva, but when he sets out to sin, his
mind wonít let his body alone. One nice aspect of the story
is that Mendy does not reject the teachings of his Orthodox
upbringing. He clearly values them and merely hopes to transgress
briefly while he takes a devilís holiday to get some things
out of his system. Alas, poor Mendy! As with many young men,
where the lust goes the heart often follows, and soon he is
head over heels in love with Sasha (Semel), a Russian
prostitute indentured to the owner of the titty bar.
Sasha is an interesting character. At first Mendy is just
a customer to her, and a rather goofy one at that. Then, it
seems, his patient, kindly courtship earns her affection even
as his persistent questions drive her wild. Then it seems
that sheís using him to improve her precarious situation in
life. And then it seems perfectly plausible that both of these
things could be going on at once. Semel keeps you guessing
and keeps you watching.
In the background is Mike (Stein), the larger-than-life
American who owns Mikeís Place. Why this former war photographer
takes a shine to Mendy is unclear at first, but eventually
circumstances show that Sasha isnít the only one who finds
both affection and utility in Mendy. As the movie progresses,
one begins to sense that things will end badly for the young
couple, and the feeling that disproportionate nastiness lurks
just around the corner in the next scene becomes oppressive.
None of this sounds particularly bad, yet The Holy Land
falls into that category of movies about which all one can
say is ďeh.Ē It has good stuff going for it, like: itís not
something you see everyday; you feel for (some of) the characters
and are concerned about their welfare; a couple of things
happen that you might not be expecting; thereís nudity; the
musicís good and the sceneryís splendid. But that doesnít
necessarily add up to a good movie. The Holy Land is
more of, well, not a travelogue exactly, but a production
to allow non-Israeli, non-Orthodox viewers to visit to a different
land and a different culture than it is a sensible story.
Iím not upset about the time spent watching it, but I canít
say that Iím glad to have seen it either.