Pic pokes holes in ‘Holy Land’

Unorthodox pic by Gorlin

HOLLYWOOD — Forget Otto Preminger’s “Exodus” — Israel has rarely, if ever, been depicted onscreen as iconoclastically as in “The Holy Land,” which premiered at the recent L.A. Film Festival.

Eitan Gorlin’s unorthodox feature about the Jewish state is a cross between “Portnoy’s Complaint” and “Salvador.” Like Philip Roth’s controversial novel about American Jewry, Eitan’s nonkosher indie shatters stereotypes about Israelis and an unholy land.

Gorlin’s directorial debut opens as rabbinical student Mendy (Oren Rehany) masturbates in the bathroom while his Orthodox rabbi father prepares for a shabbas dinner ceremony.

Later, a yeshiva teacher noticing the young man’s distraction advises Mendy to “get it out of his system” via prostitutes. At a Tel Aviv brothel, Mendy becomes obsessed with a Russian emigre. Lying to his parents, Mendy moves to Jerusalem to pursue Sacha the hooker.

But wait, there’s more: At Mike’s Place — a contemporary Rick’s Cafe in this post-modern “Casablanca” — Mendy falls in with a decidedly unrabbinical crew: Yank expat Mike, a war photojournalist-turned-barman; the Exterminator, a messianistic, M-16-wielding American settler; and Razi, an Arab wheeler-dealer.

Gorlin says the characters are based on people he knew when he lived in Jerusalem.

“It’s an interesting mix (and) a real country, (with) lots of conflict and crime,” says Gorlin, who adds he was “blown away” by the diversity.

Regarding the demi-monde in the holy land, the writer-director says prostitution is pretty much legal. Russian gangsters “fly girls into Cairo and smuggle (them) through the Sinai desert over camels with Bedouins,” he claims.

“I’ve been to Bangkok, and I’ve never seen a red light district like Tel Aviv’s.”The thirtyish Gorlin was born in America to parents he calls “very Zionistic.” In the 1990s, he served in the Israeli army and, like Mendy, studied for the rabbinate and tended bar during a period of bus bombings in Israel.

Gorlin was not involved in the Israeli film scene, instead taking cinema at the U. of Pennsylvania and the New School in Gotham, helming a 16mm short and writing.

Gorlin crewed low-budget pics, produced the feature-length “Sometime in August,” and says a journalist friend at the real Mike’s Place got the ball rolling in financing the modestly budgeted “Holy Land.”

When asked what reaction Jewish opinion makers may have to what Gorlin calls “a very unconventional screen image of Israel,” the director responds that artists exist to debunk myths.

“Do I think I’ll become the Salmon Rushdie of the Jews?” Gorlin posits. “I don’t care. Most American Jews have this (wrong) perception of the holy land. A lot of this movie was the irony, or to turn that (misperception) upside down.”

Popular on Variety

More Film

  • The Bad Guys: Reign of Chaos

    Korea: 'The Bad Guys: Reign of Chaos’ Rules Chuseok Holiday Box Office

    Local films dominated cinemagoing in South Korea over the 4-day Chuseok holiday weekend, traditionally one of the year’s busiest periods. The winner was “The Bad Guys: Reign of Chaos.” Opening on Wednesday, the CJ Entertainment release earned $20.2 million from 1.97 million admissions over five days. A film adaptation of CJ E&M’s 2014 hit TV [...]

  • Disco

    New Europe Sells Toronto and San Sebastian Film 'Disco' to Several Territories (EXCLUSIVE)

    Jan Naszewski’s New Europe Film Sales has signed several distribution deals on “Disco,” which had its world premiere in Toronto Film Festival’s Discovery section and makes its European premiere in San Sebastian’s New Directors competition. The film has been picked up by Palace for Australia and New Zealand, Artcam for Czech Republic and Slovakia, Kino [...]

  • "Jade Dynasty" in front at the

    China Box Office: 'Jade Dynasty' in Front Ahead of Mixed Competition

    With “Jade Dynasty” out front, Chinese action and Asian animation films led the way at the China box office over the past weekend, while the few American titles in play have failed to attract many moviegoers. Chinese action fantasy “Jade Dynasty” led the weekend box office in its debut with $38.1 million, figures from consultancy [...]

  • The Painted Bird

    Venice Competition Film 'The Painted Bird' Is Czech Entry in Oscar Race

    Václav Marhoul’s “The Painted Bird,” which world premiered at the Venice Film Festival in the main competition and also played at the Toronto Film Festival in Special Presentations, has been selected as the Czech Republic’s entry for the 92nd Academy Awards in the international feature film category. The pic follows the journey of an unnamed [...]

  • Pakistan Picks Freshman Effort 'Laal Kabootar'

    Pakistan Picks Freshman Effort 'Laal Kabootar' as Its Oscar Entry

    Pakistan’s Academy Selection Committee has chosen “Laal Kabootar” as its candidate for the Oscars’ international feature film category. Directed by first-time helmer Kamal Khan, the gangland thriller set in Karachi’s underbelly follows the events that transpire when a woman in search of her husband’s killer is thrown together with a cab driver and petty criminal [...]

  • Atlantis

    Toronto Film Review: 'Atlantis'

    “It took you 10 years to cleanse this region of Soviet propaganda and myths,” says one character to another in “Atlantis,” going on to suggest that the devastation now left behind may never be “cleansed” at all. A strikingly bleak vision of a near future in which Ukraine has won its war with Russia but [...]

  • Beyonce Knowles'The Lion King' film premiere,

    ABC Announces Behind-the-Scenes Special for Beyoncé's 'Lion King' LP

    ABC has announced a new behind-the-scenes look into the making of Beyoncé’s “The Lion King: The Gift” LP, which is set to air September 16 on ABC at 10 p.m. EST. Titled “Beyoncé Presents: Making the Gift,” the new hour-long special will allow viewers to “experience the process” behind the “Lion King” companion album, according [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content