A baggy-eyed comedy of blinkered hope and sad cynicism, “Holy Air” offers up a present-day Nazareth that is a commodity-minded haven for international pilgrims, but a homeland of diminishing opportunity for a modern-minded Arab Israeli Christian family man.
Writer-director Shady Srour plays Adam, a struggling entrepreneur whose reaction to pregnancy news from his progressive-minded social activist wife Lamia (a magnetic Laëtitia Eïdo) and a cancer diagnosis regarding his proud father (Tarik Kopty) is to sink into a funk about bringing a baby into a hard, politicized world in which his kind is a vanishing minority. That’s when he gets his most lucrative idea, however: to hawk the historically blessed air surrounding Mt. Precipice — captured at the source in daily climbs — as nothing less than spirituality in a bottle, for only one euro a pop.
As a wry commentary on religious tourism, and the limited avenues of prosperity for occupied, idealistic Arabs, “Holy Air” is tartly effective. And Srour’s deadpan way with storytelling, satire and elegantly fixed camera framing is a biting pleasure throughout. But the movie is also imbued with a potent melancholy when Adam is dealing with his dad or the emotional needs of his expectant spouse. Bookended by metaphoric traffic jam scenes that suggest eternal stagnation and, in small, funny ways, a kind of catch-as-catch-can freedom, “Holy Air” is a small, canny gem from a fractured land.
In Arabic, English, French, Hebrew, Italian with English subtitles
Running time: 1 hour, 20 minutes
Playing: Laemmle Monica Film Center, Santa Monica; Laemmle Playhouse 7, Pasadena