Holy Lands was advertised as a comedy. Specifically, a buddy film about Harry (James Caan), a pig farmer in Jerusalem who befriends the rabbi (Tom Hollander) protesting the existence of his farm. Being a Jewish woman, I cannot resist an irony this hilarious. So I was completely unprepared for the emotional family drama routed in the experiences of an American Jewish family.
Directed by novelist and filmmaker Amanda Sthers, it is refreshing to see such an elegant and tender film about a Jewish family that is not a comedy or about super orthodox characters. When watching this film, I saw my own family, my father’s distance, and my mother’s struggle with cancer. I saw the way being a family doesn’t mean you always agree, or you are always there for each other because of our own difficult, deeply personal struggles.
Holy Lands was that unusual film that you don’t at first consider, but then you get over your personal prejudices and decide to take a chance. I was wholly unprepared for how beautiful this film was. Nothing is as you expect it. There are no happy, neat endings. Holy Lands is a film about life, the unpredictable, heartbreaking journey that forms each of us, the relationships that unite and divide us. Even though their relationship is fraught, Harry and his son, David (Jonathan Rhys Myers), still love and care about one another.
Another thing I love is Sther’s treatment of the characters. She gives each one space to deal with their issues without judging their choices. This kind of ambiguity is important in family dramas, as I have found with my own family; family has the power to wound us but also to support us and help us heal.
Holy Lands came at a time when my family was moving out of a really dark, difficult period of our lives. It is a heartfelt portrait of a Jewish family working their way through all the challenges life threw at them.