The Holy Land is the type of no-name, indie movie that I look for in video stores. These films have a complexity and feel for reality that you rarely find in Hollywood fare. And Holy Land doesn't disappoint on that level, although like most Indie films the acting is slightly sub-par.
The characters and backdrop of Holy Land is based largely on the experiences of the writer and director of the film, Etian Gorlin. The main character, Mendy, a rabbinical school student who's so obsessed with the opposite gender that he can't focus on his studies, seems to be Gorlin's alter ego. As a last ditch attempt to remove Mendy's pre-occupation his rabbi advises him (based on some obscure Talmudic law) to visit a brothel in a neighboring city and avail himself of their services. Mendy heeds this sage advice and finds himself enamored of the prostitute whose services he secures.
The actors in this movie are not terribly strong, but principle characters are played convincingly enough. One of the remarkable things about Holy Land's script is that it uses English, Hebrew, Arabic, and Russian--languages through which the actors navigate seamlessly and with realistic accents. (English subtitles are provided were necessary.) The cinematography is quite good, and the whole film is shot on real locations in "the Holy Land".
I appreciated the way Holy Land deals with the complex issues of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It portrays the brutality and savagery of both sides as well as their virtue and hospitality. And I enjoyed most of the crazy characters who lighten the film. One of the most outrageous is a Jewish settler nicknamed "The Exterminator" who is never without his locked and loaded M-16.
What I didn't like in this movie was it's pervasive nudity. (Canada needs to add more explanation to their rating system. "14A" doesn't tell you much about why the film was rated that way.) Granted, there were some scenes where nudity was called for, and it was generally not used in a gratuitous manner. However, there were also scenes where the camera lingered longer than was needed.
As someone who was raised in a religious home, attended religious schools, and did 'rabbinical' training I could identify with Mendy. Religion and exploding hormones don't mix well and make for a time of confusion and angst. But as I see it, the message of this film is that while religion may seem confusing and feel constraining, a life devoted to pleasure has just as many, if not more, pitfalls.
I would recommend this film to anyone who has 'come of age' in a religious setting, and isn't easily offended by nudity and sexuality (or is willing to fast forward).