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1 item from 2003

The Holy Land

11 July 2003 | The Hollywood Reporter | See recent The Hollywood Reporter news »


Friday, July 12

New York

NEW YORK -- Eitan Gorlin's debut feature, which won the Grand Jury Prize for best feature film at Slamdance, presents a view of Israel that defies conventional expectations. Depicting the complicated relationship that develops between a deeply religious but questioning young rabbinical student and a 19-year-old Russian prostitute, "The Holy Land" delivers an interesting portrayal of the conflict between religion and secularism.

The film's central character is Mendy (Oren Rehany), who is given a startling recommendation to cure his restlessness by his teaching rabbi. The rabbi, alarmed over Mendy's choice of reading material -- he's currently devouring "Siddhartha" -- advises him to visit a prostitute, preferably a gentile one, to get it out of his system.

Taking his advice, Mendy visits a strip bar in Tel Aviv, where he becomes immediately smitten with the beautiful Sasha (Tchelet Semel) after she provides a full-body (but never completed) massage. Abandoning his Torah studies, Mendy gets a job working as a bartender at Mike's Place, run by an emotionally volatile former war photographer (Saul Stein). There, he comes into contact with a variety of colorful characters, including a genial Arab smuggler (Albert Illuz) and an American-born settler, dubbed the Exterminator, who never lets go of his M-16 rifle. All the while, Mendy is obsessively pursuing the object of his romantic fervor, who's rather discomfited by this strange young man's attentions.

The relationship slowly blossoms, signified by such incidents as the one in which Sasha impulsively shears off Mendy's laboriously grown earlocks. But when Mendy's new friends get him involved in a smuggling scheme, and Sasha impulsively agrees to marry him and move to America, he begins to question their motives.

While director-screenwriter Gorlin occasionally allows the story to meander with little dramatic effect, he also provides a richly detailed sense of both place and character that infuses the film with a subtle truthfulness. The central relationship is depicted with an ambiguity and complexity that defies easy categorization, with the characters revealing unexpected and surprising depths. Equally effective is the depiction of a violence-torn Israel, populated by wildly divergent types operating under their own desperate agendas. While the film's ending seems a bit tacked on and out of place with what comes before it, it also could be argued that it's all too reflective of current realities.

The Holy Land

Cavu Pictures


Director-screenwriter: Eitan Gorlin

Producers: Udi Yerushalmi, Ran Bogin

Executive producers: Isil Bagdadi, Michael Sergio

Co-executive producer: Saul Stein

Director of photography: Nils Kenaston

Editors: Yair Elazar, Josh Apter

Music: Chris Cunningham

Production designer: Carl Stensel


Mendy: Oren Rehany

Sasha: Tchelet Semel

Mike: Saul Stein

The Exterminator: Arie Moskuna

Razi: Albert Illuz

Running time -- 96 minutes

No MPAA rating »

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