You wouldn’t think that Israel, a nation besieged by enemies, lends itself to comedy. Think again. As Jews know from bitter experience, comedy defuses tensions and is tailor-made for people and countries under siege. Which brings us to Holy Air, a film written and directed by Shady Srour, a member of Israel’s large Arab minority.
In Holy Air, which opens on November 17, Srour plays Adam, a Christian Arab entrepreneur from Nazareth who devises a clever get-rich-fast scheme. If tourists shell out money for holy water from the Jordan River, he reasons, why shouldn’t they pay for holy air from the hill tops of the Holy Land?
Adam’s reasoning, far from being far-fetched, is quintessentially entrepreneurial. Fortunes have been made on the back of such out-of-the-box thinking.
The film opens as Adam learns that his spunky wife, Lamia (Laetitia Eido, in a high-spirited performance), is pregnant. He’s not exactly ready for a child, but understands he’ll need to earn a better salary to carry out his responsibilities as a good father. As for Lamia, she looks forward to having a baby.
Lamia’s pregnancy more or less coincides with the hospitalization of Adam’s father, George, who’s suffering from what may be a fatal illness. Being certain that his days are numbered, George bequeaths his antiquated workshop to Adam, an accountant who dislikes his job.
Adam doesn’t quite know what to do with his father’s property, but he’s sure it needs to be renovated. So he drives to Tel Aviv to see his Jewish friend, Udi, an investor who works out of a fancy skyscraper. Much to Adam’s disappointment, Udi can’t give him a loan.
As he wanders around Nazareth, a scenic town in the green hills of the Galilee, a priest inspires him. Why not sell holy air to tourists? He quits his job and goes for broke. Adam, his spirits buoyed, hikes up Mount Precipice, which offers an enchanting view of the region, and fills his bottles with a special blend of oxygen and larceny.
Back in Nazareth, he stops a French couple and convinces them to buy a bottle of holy air for one Euro. Having fooled them, he makes another sale to Japanese tourists. Word soon gets around that Adam is prospering. Local gangsters demand protection money, but he’s not discouraged and presses ahead.
Despite his success, Lamia and Adam’s parents make light of his new business venture, equating holy air with hot air. They don’t understand he’s on to something in a town so reliant on tourism. Indeed, a competitor is already on the street hawking bottled holy air.
Outwitting the competition, Adam enlists the assistance of the local bishop, the Israeli minister of tourism and a Muslim mobster to corner the market in holy air, just in time for a papal visit to Israel. Cooperation between Christians, Jews and Muslims may lift spirits, but in this particular case, it’s little more than a crass exercise in commerce.
As comedies go, Holy Air is passable fare, mildly entertaining and pleasantly diverting. And the views of Nazareth and environs are quite enticing.