Return to 'The Holy Land'

By Tali Israeli
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Thursday, January 22, 2004

Film mirrors director's life

Russian prostitutes and Orthodox Jews don't normally fall in love.

And independent films from first-time directors don't normally make a splash.

But "The Holy Land," written and directed by Eitan Gorlin, is proving both these assumptions wrong.

The film premiered in New York on July 15, 2003, but the movie had already won the Grand Jury Prize at the 2002 Slamdance Film Festival and Best Film at the Avignon/New York Film Festival. Gorlin was also nominated as Someone to Watch by the Independent Spirit Awards.

"The Holy Land" is set in Israel in the late '90s and tells the story of Mendy, a hormonal rabbinical student and Sasha, a prostitute.

Mendy falls for Sasha and follows her to Jerusalem, where he experiences love and the adult world he had been shielded from by his religion.

The characters and setting in the film mirror Gorlin's life, but it is not an autobiography, even though he did try and give the film a documentary feel.

"I did my best to portray it as authentically and honestly as I could," Gorlin said of his depiction of Israel's culture.

Gorlin put a lot of his own experiences into the film, infusing himself into each character.

"Every character in this movie is based on someone I knew or a composite of real people. There's something for at least a moment that I could relate to in each person," Gorlin said.

But the character that Gorlin can relate to the most is Mendy because he is loosely based on Gorlin and because his escape from the Orthodox religion.

Although Gorlin's upbringing was more Americanized than Mendy's, he was also raised in an Orthodox home and studied to be a rabbi.

At age 17, Gorlin made his first trip to Israel to attend Yeshivat Sha'alvim, a Zionist yeshiva where religious studies and military services were combined.

Gorlin strayed from his rabbinical path after one year in Israel and another year at Yeshiva University in New York.

While attending the University of Pennsylvania, he discovered his passion for film.

After graduation, he traveled around the world for two years, before heading back to Israel in 1992, when he started working at a bar called Mike's Place.

During his three-year stay in Israel working at the bar, Gorlin found his inspiration for "The Holy Land." In 1997, Gorlin wrote a novella, "Mike's Place, A Jerusalem Diary," about his experiences in Israel.

That novella became the basis for his film.

Gorlin said that coming of age and questioning what you are taught as a child is a universal theme the film tries to explore. That is something that both Gorlin, and the character of Mendy, had to deal with.

"Each soul has its own journey," Gorlin said. "Part of it is just your hormones; you're so curious about the world. Part of it is just intellectual."

Although the film has a universal theme, it does happen in a very specific time and place; The prostitution in the movie relates to modern-day Israel.

"There was kind of a social phenomena of prostitution in Israel at this time," Gorlin said.

"The film is not afraid of nuance and ambiguity. There's a certain ambiguity to the politics, relationships and conflict (in the movie) that mirror life."

When asked about his expectations for the film, Gorlin said he hopes it's entertaining and profound for people who are looking for it.

"For some people who are searching in life or have a lot of questions, I hope this movie can help them," he said. "When you make a movie about people, you want it to somehow mirror the experiences we all share."

"The Holy Land" starts tomorrow at Catalina Theater, 2320 N. Campbell Ave.

Showtimes are 12:30 p.m., 2:35 p.m., 4:40 p.m., 7 p.m. and 9:10 p.m.