MovieScope By Robert Snyder
‘The Holy Land’ – Sex Vs. Study
One of the major problems facing college-age teenagers is the temptation to party, rather than crack the books. Raging hor-mones often interrupt serious scholarly concentration.
In Director Eitan Gorlin’s "The Holy Land," such a situation exists for 20-year-old Mendy (Oren Rehany), an ultra-Orthodox rabbinical student who can’t keep his mind on the Torah and his sex drive in check. One day, the rabbi at his Israeli college finds him secretly reading Herman Hesse. He takes the student aside and suggests that he take a trip to the red light district of Tel Aviv. This way, the youth can get sinning "out of his system" in one shot.
Mendy takes his mentor’s advice and soon finds himself paying for quickie gratification, courtesy of a 19-year-old Ukrainian prostitute named Sasha (Tchelet Semel). Back in school, Mendy’s mind is hardly on his studies. In fact, it’s on Sasha, whom he goes to see the next night. Although still girlish, she’s basically a hard-nosed survivor, whose focus is to seduce a sucker with an American passport. Mendy may be the one.
While Sasha weaves her web, the virgin hero is taken under the warped wing of boisterous American expatriate Mike (Saul Stein), a sometime war photographer with shady connections. He invites Mendy to hang out at his bar in Jerusalem, where Arabs and Jews mingle to indulge in sex, drugs and all sorts of sordid behavior. Lying to his parents of his intentions, Mendy convinces them to let him take a sabbatical to the holy city, where his father believes God is on every rock. More important to Mendy than God is Sasha, who moves into Mike’s bar scene.
Gorlin’s film seems to be saying something when he keeps the attention on the Sasha-Mendy relationship. However, the center is lost as he brings in an assortment of dubious characters at Mike’s bar. The movie becomes a poor man’s "Casablanca." One old wino yells, throws up and gets beaten. Another Jewish American settler, who calls himself, "The Exterminator," is welded to his M-16. Mike himself is subject to fits of rage for no reason. The rabbi, who started Mendy on his road to ruin, shows up, expresses his disgust and is promptly given the brush-off by his former student.
As the tainted innocent, Rehany is so low-key that he barely gives a
performance. Sex-starved as his character is, it’s hard to believe that he would be smitten by a harlot as unloving as Sasha. Very little chemistry ignites between Rehany and Semel, but what does is the most interesting aspect of the movie. In an opening voiceover, her character bitterly complains about Mid-Eastern
men, saying that they treat women "worse than dogs." She adds, "I wish Arabs and Jews would kill each other off." The idea is that maybe Mendy will soften her. Not so. Their relationship never develops into anything serious. In fact, it’s a dead end.
At one point, before sacrificing a sheep, the Exterminator expresses hope for his country through the tourist trade. Unfortunately, "The Holy Land" isn’t about to attract thousands of visitors to Israel…certainly not to people and places like Mike and his bar.
Mendy would have been better off working out his hormonal problems at home — a good place to stay rather than to a theater to see "The Holy Land."