“I hope the Jews and Arabs kill each other till nobody left,” curses a young woman’s voice in Russian-accented and broken English over journalistic footage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. So The Holy Land opens in fragments that eventually fall together into a coming-of-age romance with a subtext of Jewish-Arab hostilities.
In his parents’ bathroom, Mendy (Oren Rehany), a bespectacled rabbinical student, beats off to an image in a woman’s fashion magazine. Noticing that Mendy is distracted from his studies, one of his teachers, Rebbe Nochum, privately offers him counsel from the Talmud Basa Basrah: If one cannot concentrate on religious studies, one should go where he is not recognized and satisfy his lusts with a harlot — better a non-Jewish harlot. Mendy takes these words literally and travels from his hometown, Bnei Brak, to Tel Aviv; he falls into a “live sex” club called the Love Boat and meets Sasha (Tchelet Semel), the young prostitute from some ex-Soviet bloc country who earlier cursed the Jews and the Arabs.
Mendy also meets one of Sasha’s regular customers, Mike (Saul Stein), an American ex-photojournalist whose beat was the Middle East. Mike owns a bar (imaginatively named Mike’s Place) in Jerusalem, and soon Mendy becomes his roommate and employee. He serves drinks to a motley crew that includes Razi (Albert Illuz), a charming and shady Arab who’s involved in more than his admitted occupation of real estate broker, and the Exterminator (Arie Moskuna), a radical Zionist who always keeps his “baby” — an American assault rifle — slung over his shoulder.
“In Jerusalem, you feel God everywhere,” Mendy says. Razi instructs him, “God lives in your dick.” Within Jerusalem’s demimonde of drugs and sex, Mendy struggles with his troubled relationships among Mike, Sasha, romance, lust and God.
But writer-director Eitan Gorlin’s story of the age-old Judeo-Christian contest between sex and faith falls victim to a plot almost as distracted and ineffectual as his protagonist. There’s the milk-and-water romance between his ingenuous and lost young man of God and his angel-faced prostitute, their meager ménage à trois with Mike and a non sequitur moral that Jews and Arabs — no matter how friendly — are deadly enemies. Then there are Stein’s and Moskuna’s hammy performances.
Gorlin’s The Holy Land ends up flawed and not quite kosher.
Opens Friday at the Main Art Theatre (118 N. Main, Royal Oak). Call 248-263-2111.
James Keith La Croix writes about film for Metro Times. E-mail [email protected].