A coming-of-age saga set against the tense backdrop of Arab-Israeli politics. Mendy is a young Rabbinical student whose mind is too full of curiosity about the world that exists outside the...
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A coming-of-age saga set against the tense backdrop of Arab-Israeli politics. Mendy is a young Rabbinical student whose mind is too full of curiosity about the world that exists outside the restrictions of Orthodox Judaism. Recognizing his distraction, Mendy's teacher suggests that he visit a prostitute to get it out of his system. But on a fateful night, when he meets Sacha, a captivating Russian expatriate, who works in a Tel Aviv bordello, his appetite for outside experience only grows stronger. Written by
Sujit R. Varma
Not Produced or Sponsored by the Israel Tourist Agency
[See the IMDb page for this film for the cast - none are known in the U.S.]
"The Holy Land" is a stark, unusual, powerful gaze at Israel's dark underbelly of drugs, prostitution, zany and not necessarily sane Jewish settlers (some are American expatriates) and Palestinians who maintain relations with Jews.
Conventional love stories often provide the backdrop for a director's vision of political turbulence and strife. This one's a bit off the radar screen. Mendy is a yeshiva student expected to spend (waste in my view) his life studying dense tomes of arcane lore and law while producing nothing of value to anyone. An inquiring young man who senses the imprisoning limitations of his religious culture, he reads "profane" literature and masturbates in his bathroom while his ultra-Orthodox parents prepare festive holiday meals. His mother emigrated to Israel from the states and there met her husband. The couple is a caricature of a fundamentalist lifestyle in which everything is regulated and little is understood.
On the advice of a seedy rabbi who sees Mendy isn't with the yeshiva program, he goes to a bar that is a slim cover for prostitution. He meets, receives manual release from and falls in love with a hooker, Sasha, a Russian. She's pretty, cynical and knows how to work a besotted kid.
Their turbulent relationship takes them across Jerusalem where they spend a lot of time in "Mike's Place," a gin mill where Palestinians and Jews are equally welcome as long as they check their firearms behind the bar.
"Mike's Place" is in the tradition of Rick's Cafe but quite a few rungs lower on the ladder of civilized life. The interactions of the bar denizens are interesting and highlight the reality of Israel's unsteady and contentious pluralities. Some of the interactions between members of different (and differing) groups would be funny except there's little to laugh at here.
Director Eilan Gorlin pulls off the difficult task of involving the viewer not just with travelogue quality shots of Jerusalem (obligatory Wailing Wall scenes, of course) but by injecting a particular thought that the watcher can't escape. Are all these people what they seem to be? Or is each, perhaps excepting the horny deserter from Talmud studies, a husbander of secrets, some very dark?
This movie was made several years ago and had a very limited circulation. The bar in the film was actually the scene of a recent terrorist attack according to a theater-lobby posted story. I don't know how widely it will be available in this re-release.
"The Holy Land" (and I wondered if sarcasm underlay the title) is disturbing and engrossing. New and improved peace plans can be floated weekly but this film conveys, without overt preaching of political views, the maelstrom that is Israel today.
An important film.
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