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The Holy Land (NR)
Cavu Pictures
Official Site
Director: Eitan Gorlin
Producers: Udi Yerushalmi, Ran Bogin, Arnon Regular
Written by: Eitan Gorlin
Cast: Oren Rehany, Tchelet Semel, Saul Stein, Arie Moskuna, Albert Illuz, Alon Dahan

Rating: out of 5

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.

óRoxanne Bogucka


hybridCinema Ratings Guide:

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