A man confronted with the sudden news of fatherhood is not a new story. The trick is to tell that story in a different way, which is the advantage foreign films in both perspective and tone. In Shady Srour’s Holy Air, the story becomes fresh again as told from the perspective of a Christian Arab man living in Nazareth – “the Arab capital of Israel.”
“…Adam has the idea of bottling the ‘Holy Air’ and selling it to tourists.”
Adam (Shady Srour) is said Christian Arab squeaking out a living in novelty toilet paper sales. His outspoken feminist girlfriend, Lamia (Laëtitia Eïdo), drops the news that she is pregnant with Adam’s child, while she’s taking the pregnancy test in Adam’s car front-seat. To compound Adam’s problem, Lamia’s gynecologist (Yussuf Abu-Warda) says their child has a 50/50 chance to “make it.”
To further compound Adam’s trouble, his father (Tarik Kopty) has a 50/50 chance of surviving cancer. Because of the toll chemotherapy is taking, Adam’s father gives him the family business, which is a glass blowing shop.
Knowing that he must provide for a new wife and child, Adam needs a sudden boost in his income. While driving out of town to escape his stress, Adam’s journey is stalled by a flock of Holy Land tourists led by Priest Roberto (Samuel Calderon) visiting Mount Precipice, the site of Christ’s rejection. Inspired by the priest’s admonition to breathe in the same holy air as the Virgin Mary, Adam has the idea of bottling the “Holy Air” and selling it to tourists. Yes. Adam is selling empty bottles to tourists. Well, not exactly, he has the integrity of actually going to Mount Precipice and bottling the actual air.
Getting involved in the tourist trade is not easy. But Adam sees an opportunity for quick cash with the arrival of the Pope to Nazareth. First, there are the Arab mafia enforcers, who want a piece of Adam’s business for “protection.” Then there is the Catholic Church, who has the monopoly on Holy Land tours.
Holy Air is a mix of a lot of things. It is funny, tragic, sweet and sad. Filmmaker Shady Srour’s comedy is dryer than Death Valley or should I say, the Negev. I love that this comedy is not like American comedies, winking at the camera as a cue for a laugh. Every scene is shot as comedic moments dressed as tragedy. When moments are not tragic, they come off as ironically sweet.
“…a comedy that sheds light on real people living in a culture, often misunderstood.”
Shady Srour’s performance as Adam is solemnly understated. He is not prone to big emotional moments but employs effective quiet ones. Early in the film, Adam gets into a one-sided sword fight during a traffic jam. While Adam is fighting the driver, his car stereo is stolen. He then laments to his fiancé Lamia about almost killing the driver and how it felt like “cumming.” He is a dedicated man caught in a world he can’t control.
Speaking of Lamia, actress Laëtitia Eïdo has her moments. She speaks in front of a local news crew about the misogyny of Valentine’s day. She argues that society is making a business out of an emotion that only serves men since 90 percent of women in Arab society cannot reach orgasm.
I loved watching Holy Air because it’s different. Srour takes values we share as human beings like love, family, and duty and then places in a different context like any good comedy should do. Admittedly, the only thing I know about life in the Middle East is what I see on CNN. The story of Holy Air takes place in the hotbed of conflict between Jews, Arabs, and Christians. But rather make a political film, Holy Air is a comedy that sheds light on real people living in a culture, often misunderstood.
Holy Air (2017) Written and Directed by Shady Srour. Starring Shady Srour, Laëtitia Eïdo, Shmulik Calderon, and Tarik Kopty.
4 out of 5 stars