"The Holy Land" doesn't get deep enough into any one of its potentially interesting stories about faith, temptation and betrayal among a rabbinical student, a prostitute and a bar owner in Israel to be really worthwhile.
By JOSHUA TANZER
Setting out to be deliberately provocative, "The Holy Land" splits into three pseudo-controversial movies, each less dangerous than one well-conceived story could have been.
There's the initial concept a young rabbinical student, too distracted by impure thoughts to concentrate properly on Torah, is none-too-subtly encouraged to go somewhere and find a loose woman to take care of his little problem so he can come back and be a nice Jewish boy again. This, a rabbi confidentially assures him, is an obscure Talmudic teaching. "And if the harlot happens to be a non-Jew, even better," he instructs.
|THE HOLY LAND|
|Written and directed by: Eitan Gorlin.|
Cast: Oren Rehany, Tchelet Semel, Saul Stein, Albert Illouz, Aryeh Moskona.
In English and Hebrew with English subtitles.
Related links: Official site
This is how boy (Mendy, played by Oren Rehany) meets girl (Sasha, Tchelet Semel), a Ukrainian-born stripper/prostitute who instantly arouses his interest. Anticipation is followed by disappointment, unresolved longing is followed by a crisis of faith but not for long. Mendy's anguish subsides quickly, and suddenly we're really in a different movie.
This movie is about a Jerusalem bar called Mike's Place where all the local bohemians and oddballs gather nightly. Mendy gets a job in the place, thanks to Mike (Saul Stein), a loud, burly, American expatriate former war photographer whose carnage-filled pictures share the walls with posters of Janis Joplin. Although the camera still follows Mendy, Mike is really the center of the story from this point on. The once-bookish Mendy simply follows him around envying his machismo.|
And there's a third movie going on, which many viewers might not even realize is happening until the last five minutes. Until then, there's simply the surreptitious shuttling of packages from one place to another. In the last five minutes, writer-director Eitan Gorlin suddenly tells you, hey, this is what the film has been about all along. By the end, the movie has become meaningless.
None of these stories are told thoroughly. The standard one-sentence explanation of the plot of "The Holy Land" is that it's about a rabbinical student who falls in love with a hooker a pretty good setup for an intense human story but that line is abandoned. We expect a crisis of faith, a conflict of the sacred with the sinful and its human implications, but the movie just isn't about that.
Mike's story is potentially a better one, full of disillusioned politics, inspired craziness and offbeat barflies, but since he's supposed to be a secondary character, his character is not filled in adequately. He explains how he wound up in Israel but we never understand his relationship with the Palestinians and Israelis in his bar and his neighborhood, which turns out to be important.
And the cloak-and-dagger plot at the end is left totally unclear. We know what happens, the simple facts that end the story, but we have no idea why they occur. Motivations and allegiances are incomprehensible, and the sense of irony that we're intended to feel is nothing but a bad joke. It's a manipulation of emotions intended to add weight to an inadequately conceived, fragmented movie.
|JULY 24, 2003|
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