A review of “The Holy Land” by Jeanne Aufmuth

 

Stars: ** 1/2

Rating: Unrated, but should be R for drug use, nudity and language.

Run Time: 1 hour, 36 minutes

 

 

Politically, religiously, and emotionally controversial, “Holy Land” hammers home the incongruities of Israel’s modern state of affairs.

Born of orthodox Jewish roots but questioning his faith on every level, Rabbinical student Mendy (Oren Rehany) leaves his parents’ home in Tel Aviv and strikes out for Jerusalem, where he tends bar while seeking the answers to age-old dilemmas.  Along the way Mendy meets Sacha (Tchelet Semel), a Russian expatriate / call girl with whom he falls hopelessly in lust.

Mendy’s strict Judaic upbringing does little to help him cope with the ways of the bustling contemporary metropolis, or the feminine mystique.  Sacha, who won’t forego her wandering ways, takes pity on the virginal Mendy while wallowing in the unaccustomed warmth of his pitiful adoration. 

A moody American war photographer (Saul Stein as Mike) takes Mendy under his wing, offering employment, shelter, and a startlingly unfamiliar environment that finds friendly Arab smugglers working and playing side by side with Israeli patriots.

Ill-fated romance and tenuous friendships are supported by a basis of religious persecution and Arab-Israeli politics. Political and emotional contradictions keep the narrative flowing, slightly off-kilter and erratically interesting.  The film lacks clear focus in its central theme of the yawning chasm between secular and Orthodox Judaism in contemporary Israel, but a foundation of acute yearning underscores a studied pathos.