Holy Lands



Amanda Sthers’ adaptation of her own novel doesn’t quite make it as a film.


Holy Lands 

James Caan and Efrat Dor


French-born director Amanda Sthers is also a successful novelist and playwright, now resident in Los Angeles. The first film she wrote and directed was Je vais te manqué starring Carole Bouquet in 2009. In 2017, her film Madame was a real charmer with Toni Collette, Harvey Keitel and Rossy de Palma. Although it received a limited release, I found it to be one of the most enjoyable comedies of the year.


Sthers returns with something completely different. Holy Lands is her adaptation of her own novel about Harry Rosenmerck (James Caan), a retired Jewish American heart specialist who has relocated to Israel to open a pig farm. The possibilities for both comedy and tragedy are immediately apparent. Harry has moved to get away from his ex-wife Monica (Rosanna Arquette) who he learns has a terminal illness. He is also estranged from his gay son David (Jonathan Rhys Meyers), a playwright of immense pretentiousness, who bases his plays on his family history. Finally, there is Harry’s daughter Annabelle (Efrat Dor) who spends her life doing very little except snapping photographs on her travels.


Harry the pig farmer has not been made welcome in Nazareth, for obvious reasons, the top of the list being the raising of bacon in a Jewish community. He falls foul of the local Rabbi, Moshe Cattan (Tom Hollander), and the other locals. However, following a bout of argument and mistrust, Harry and Moshe finally become friends but it is a bit of a slog getting there. 


That said, however, there are some endearing performances from Caan as the curmudgeonly old Harry, who has a pet piglet following his every step, while Tom Hollander, as enragingly uptight as most of the parts he plays require him to be, almost steals the film with his undisguised venom. Rosanna Arquette as the maddeningly awful ex-wife Monica has her moments and, as the daughter Annabelle, Efrat Dor portrays the eternal student with fond but annoying credibility. Jonathan Rhys Meyers’ David shows only too well the frustrations of belonging to a crazy family. 


However, in putting these various elements together, Sthers just misses creating a really satisfactory film which at times seems to be dragging its reels. It could be that Holy Lands makes a better read as a novel than the author’s adaptation for the screen.




Cast: James Caan, Rosanna Arquette, Tom Hollander, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Efrat Dor, Patrick Bruel, Reem Kherici, Thierry Harcourt.


Dir Amanda Sthers, Pro Laurent Bacri, Didier Lupfer and Alain Pancrazi, Screenplay Amanda Sthers, Ph Rḗgis Blondeau, Pro Des Françoise Joset, Ed Nadia Ben Rachid, Music Supervisor Pierre-Marie Dru, Costumes Deborah O’Hana.


StudioCanal/Bustan Films/Artḗmis Productions/PM SA/Shelter Prod-StudioCanal.
100 mins. USA. 2018. Rel: 5 April 2019. Cert. 15.