Thursday, April 27, 2017

Talking Tribeca: Holy Air

I’ve had the pleasure of screening a number of selections from this year’s Tribeca Film Festival, which takes place April 19th-April 30th.

Holy Air
Directed by Shady Srour
Festival Screenings

The dictionary definition of a scam is “a fraudulent or deceptive act or operation.” A simpler explanation is “a dishonest way to make money by deceiving people.” There are obviously a number of levels in this business, and scams can turn into schemes when they involve large amounts of money taken by one person or group from another in exchange for little and sometimes nothing in return. There are, on the other hand, some scams that can be described more accurately as victimless crimes that hardly constitute as misdeeds given both the low financial loss suffered by the victim and the lack of any greater implications beyond an unnecessary purchase.

Adam (Shady Srour) is a budding entrepreneur in Nazareth, a Christian man who works alongside Jews and Muslims in his daily efforts to come up with a winning idea and market a successful product. His wife Lamia (Laëtitia Eïdo) is eager to have a baby, but the process isn’t so easy, and that impending cost coupled with his father’s failing health make his need for a cash infusion all the more urgent. Inspirational quotes written on toilet paper aren’t going to cut it, and Adam is struck with a notion far more likely to succeed: bottling “holy air” to sell to visiting believers, literally making money from nothing.

Srour, who stars, writes, and directs, should be recognizable to American audiences from his lead role as an Ultra-Orthodox Jew stranded at a convent in the West Bank in the Oscar-nominated short film “Ave Maria,” spotlights a facet of Israeli society that rarely gets top billing in cinema. Adam must gain approval from his Jewish funders, keep the Muslim gangsters from beating him up for encroaching on their territory, and appease the Christian authorities already trying to maximize their profits without his intervention. Adam doesn’t seem tethered to much, but he does want to succeed, and the way he comes up with to do it is truly ingenious.

Srour is not a showy actor, and he directs himself here as a protagonist who mainly allows others around him to shape events, and he gets to choose whether or not to participate. When Adam is ready to make his big pitch, watching him quietly come to life is a revelation of sorts. This film shouldn’t be mistaken as anything but a light-hearted comedy, one that serves to slyly entertain throughout its short eighty-one-minute runtime and then dissipates into a mere memory as Adam’s product would surely do in real life.



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