The Holy Land

Any film that opens with footage of the Israeli flag in flames, the voice of a Russian émigré expressing disgust with a country where women are treated like dogs and the image of a rabbinical student masturbating before joining his family for the Shabbat seder is nothing if not attention grabbing. But Israeli-born director Eitan Gorlin's bold and...read more

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Reviewed by Ken Fox
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Any film that opens with footage of the Israeli flag in flames, the voice of a Russian &#233migr&#233 expressing disgust with a country where women are treated like dogs and the image of a rabbinical student masturbating before joining his family for the Shabbat seder is nothing if not attention grabbing. But Israeli-born director Eitan Gorlin's bold and surprising film is far from prurient sensationalism. Inspired by his time spent working in a Jerusalem bar, Gorlin offers a serious, if unconventional, perspective on the violence that continues to tear the Holy Land apart. The voice belongs to baby-faced Ukrainian prostitute Sasha (Tchelet Semel), who lap dances for clients at a Tel Aviv strip club. The yeshiva student is provincial, 19-year-old Mendy (Oren Rehany), who'd rather read Herman Hesse than the Torah and can't keep his mind off girls. Recognizing the distracted look in his randy pupil's eyes, Mendy's rabbi (Alon Dahan) suggests he visit a "harlot"; it may violate rabbinical law, but once he gets it out of his system Mendy will be able to concentrate on his studies. Unfortunately, once Mendel lays eyes on Sasha, his passion is only enflamed. Temperamental American war photographer Mike (Saul Stein), Sasha's frequent client, invites Mendy to visit his bar in Jerusalem where, he says with a wink, Sasha and the girls hang out during their off-hours. Mendy does more than visit: He convinces his parents (Liat Bayn, Yehoyachim Friedlander) to let him study in Jerusalem, then gets a job at Mike's bar where Arabs, like the Dylan-loving Razi (Albert Illuz), rub shoulders with Israelis. But Mike's motives seem to extend beyond his new friend's sexual education. He invites Mendy and Sasha to accompany him and Razi on a trip to an Arab village, a trip that takes them past Israeli checkpoints where cars carrying nice Jewish boys like Mendy are rarely inspected, even if the Jewish boys are carrying suspicious packages. While a good deal of time is devoted to the predicament of young Russian women like Sasha, who relinquish their passports to pimps in order to support their families back home, the film is really a timely critique of the ongoing insanity that has engulfed Israeli life. Without choosing sides, Gorlin also subtly questions the international face of the Arab-Israeli conflict — images taken by photographers with their own agendas, which often serve to hide the truth. (In Hebrew, Arabic, English and Russian, with English subtitles.)

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  • Released: 2001
  • Rating: NR
  • Review: Any film that opens with footage of the Israeli flag in flames, the voice of a Russian émigré expressing disgust with a country where women are treated like dogs and the image of a rabbinical student masturbating before joining his family for the S… (more)

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