VOD film review: Holy Lands
Caan and Hollander7
Judas the piglet5
Matthew Turner | On 21, Jun 2019
Director: Amanda Sthers
Cast: James Caan, Tom Hollander, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Rosanna Arquette, Efrat Dor, Patrick Bruel
Watch Holy Lands online in the UK: Apple TV (iTunes) / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / Google Play / Sky Store
French novelist turned writer-director Amanda Sthers (Madame) adapts her own novel for this drama set in both Israel and New York. James Caan plays Harry Rosenmerck, a grumpy former New York cardiologist, who’s decided to spend his retirement in the most offensive way imaginable: raising pigs on a farm in Israel. He’s also semi-estranged from the rest of his family, which includes gay playwright son David (Jonathan Rhys Meyers), neurotic photographer daughter Annabelle (Israeli actress Efrat Dor) and ex-wife Monica (Rosanna Arquette), who’s going through a crisis of her own.
When Harry is targeted by a group of angry fundamentalist priests who want him off his land, he strikes up an unexpected friendship with Moshe (Tom Hollander, sporting an impressive beard), an Orthodox rabbi. Meanwhile, Annabelle attempts to reconnect with her father when she visits Israel, and David attempts to channel his father’s rejection into an impassioned play called Origins.
The performances by Caan and Hollander are the main reason to see this otherwise very stodgy tale. Caan excels at crotchety old man roles and he’s on fine form here, maintaining just enough of a twinkle in his eye to ensure he remains sympathetic, even if the film feels a little misjudged in the way it seems to side with his bigoted opinions. (You’re constantly expecting some sort of emotional reversal on that front, but this isn’t really that sort of film.)
Hollander is equally good as Moshe and his initially reluctant friendship with Caan’s character is surprisingly charming, even if it can’t quite make up for the film’s flaws elsewhere. Actually, there is another friendship in the film that is equally charming and that’s the friendship between Caan and his favourite piglet, Judas but, well, let’s just say that doesn’t end quite as happily.
The main problem with the film is that the writing is unbearably pretentious, containing sincerely delivered howlers like “How can it be that the tears I cry, when they evaporate, end up in the same clouds as the sea?” Unfortunately, there’s a veritable deluge of dirge in the dialogue department, as the film’s main gimmick is that the characters all write long, tedious letters to their father (and he to them), which are all read aloud, at length. The pretentiousness doesn’t stop there, either – suffice it to say that David’s play would have you stabbing out your own eyes.
The film is further let down by Sthers’ poorly paced direction, while the editing makes it feel as if there’s no progression within the story, just a series of scenes where the characters read or write angry letters to each other. Similarly, there’s no real sense of place, especially in the New York scenes, which perhaps isn’t all that surprising, seeing as they were shot in Belgium.
Ultimately, this is a disappointing adaptation that creates a likeable relationship between Caan and Holland’s characters, but fails to provide the same emotional investment in the family drama, leaving it all feeling rather flat.