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Entries in Religious Satire (1)

Friday
Jun162017

HOLY AIR: THE SHADY SROUR NTERVIEW

Set in Nazareth, Holy Air is the story of a Palestinian named Adam, striving against the socio-political barriers he faces everyday, to achieve his full potential and a meaningful happiness. His entrepreneurial vision inspires him to bottle and sell ‘holy air’, small jars of the very atmosphere found at the most spiritual of places, Mount Precipice. Writer/director Shady Srour, who also stars as the forlorn but determined protagonist, has crafted both a wonderfully funny satire that tackles faith, oppression and gender roles, and a deeply etched portrait of a man at an existential crossroad. Ahead of the long haul flight that will bring him to the Australian premiere of Holy Air at the Sydney Film Festival, Shady spoke to SCREEN-SPACE from his home in Israel… (SPOILER ALERT)

                                                                                                                  Photo credit: Sofyan Zhalka

SCREEN-SPACE: The very notion of 'holy air' is so wonderfully absurd yet entirely believable in this age of fanatic beliefs and blind faith. When did the concept of 'bottled holy spirit, weighing one gram' first come to you?

SROUR: When I started to write the script, I wanted to create a trinity – the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit - so I modeled it along three lines. The ‘Father’ is the story line with the father; the ‘Son’ is the story with the wife and fetus, which is also connected to the annunciation; and, the ‘Holy Spirit’, which is the selling of spirituality as a commodity, like the toilet paper scene. And, of course, in writing and developing the script over eleven years, all the other ideas started to be built within this frame.

SCREEN-SPACE: Your hero, Adam, is so disconnected from all that surrounds him. The traffic jam opening suggests his life is in motion, but not really moving at all. There is universality about how lost he truly is; that moment many men feel as youth fades and adult responsibility beckons...

SROUR: Nazareth is one of the most densely populated Arabian cities in Israel, with no space to expand. It’s part of an occupation plan to suffocate the Arabs inside their villages, places that look like refugees camps. So the traffic is part of our reality. The traffic jam is a motif, a symbol to say that our life here is stuck, its not moving anywhere, not politically or socially or religiously. It’s going to hell. And when Adam, who is smart and ambitious, can't fulfill his dreams and his goals because of unfair situations - because he is Arab, Palestinian - he is like everybody else, very tired and exhausted. His disconnection from his surroundings is like a self-defense mechanism, so he won't go crazy. That’s part of the character's development; starting from that disconnection from reality, he gets the annunciation that he is having a baby, so his fatherhood seeds begin to grow. He has to be rational in this crazy land, face a more rational reality. This is the tragedy; he has nothing to do but accept the reality of fatherhood. (Pictured, above; Srour, second from left, as Adam in Holy Air)

SCREEN-SPACE: Your script finds shading in the relationship between the various ethnicities and religions of Nazareth. Was making all these characters as 'human' as possible part of your plan?

SROUR: To be honest, I think I have so much anger here regarding Israel\Palestine. Every side – Judaism, Islam and Christianity - is getting more fanatical; that’s why no one is safe from my satire. I tried to make it in a smart way, because here every one is so sensitive about anything to do with religion. It’s dangerous to my life; I was boycotted and threatened for different projects in the past and I'm expecting tension for Holy Air as well. When Dante wrote the Divine Comedy, he went against the Pope but he wrote it in a smart way so the church wouldn't get rid of him. And, as you mentioned, the warm moments were intentional, because my main target was to bring the human being to the front and push back the political aspect. I wanted to challenge the audience to look at my main characters as human being and not through the stereotypical Israeli-Palestinian conflict they know from the news. (Pictured, above; Shady Srour as Adam)

SCREEN-SPACE: There is something slightly askew about the film's reality. Adam keeps disappearing into the bath, at one point for a long time as his wife talks about their baby-future. It can be theorised that your film exists in a dream-like state?

SROUR: Since the whole idea of Holy Air is trippy, I was trying to play with the reality, or what’s called magic-realism. You can ask yourself is it for real or not, and I wanted to give the film a hallucinatory aspect. That’s why Adam gets into the bathtub at the beginning and at the end there is a shot of the bathtub empty; does Adam stay in the bathtub from the beginning till the end and all of what happened to him is only in his head? In scenes where Adam smokes weed, and drinks whisky, I was playing within a thin line between reality and not reality. By the way, rarely has the audience taken it this way but I wanted them to instinctively feel it.

SCREEN-SPACE: As ‘Lamia’, Laëtitia Eïdo has a wonderful chemistry with you. As issues such as politics, history, religion and patriarchy unfold, what did her character ‘Lamia’ convey about gender in modern Nazareth?

SROUR: In general, the stereotypical Arab women in Nazareth are the women wearing hijab, but the modern Arab woman doesn't get much representation in cinema. So imagine in a conservative society such as the Arab society there are also Palestinian women like Lamia. Politically speaking, the society expects Palestinian women to sacrifice and be strong, filled with pride so she doesn't collapse. I wanted to convey that it’s legitimate to show her weakness sometimes, as it is something that makes her even stronger. (Pictured, above; Srour with co-star Laëtitia Eïdo)

SCREEN-SPACE: Superbly timed, often very small moments provide big laughs - the 'confessional sales pitch'; the 'papal banner'; the 'take 10%' sequence. Whose comic sensibilities have influenced you?

SROUR: Oedipus by Sophocles, Macbeth by Shakespeare, The Wild Duck by Ibsen, Tartuffe by Molliere, Divine Comedy by Dante and the Bible, are mostly my inspiration. I came from a theatre background; I did my B.A in Theatre Acting, and my M.F.A in Cinema, and I'm a university lecturer in theatre analysis. I believe in the continuation of theatre, so my inspiration comes from theatre. My big inspiration was Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot, so this film has the existentialist conflicts, circular principle and forced pairings between all the characters of a tragi-comedy. ‘Lamia’ was inspired by Shakespeare’s Lady Macbeth, while Adam was designed as a ‘Hero’, employing elements from old Greek theater. For instance, he has kind of supernatural powers, that’s why he speaks five languages. Like a ‘hero’, he focuses on a target and he goes for it until the end. There is also the conflict between Rationalism and Idealism. Adam is spacey but uses the corrupted system in a rational way, while Lamia is a feminist, a humanist so idealistic that she wants an abortion. Hers is a destructive idealism. And of course, this is a story happening in Nazareth, so there are some references from the bible; it’s a kind of a new annunciation after 2000 years. When Jesus said he was the Son of God and was kicked out of Nazareth, he fled to Mount Precipice. So for Adam, it's a place where he can get fresh air and be a little spiritual, away from his negative city. My inspiration for the story has many layers that don’t have to reach an audience with this clarity of vision, but I was trying to have it in the background so that the audience had a sense of it.

HOLY AIR screens June 17 and 18 at the Sydney Film Festival. Session and ticket information can be found at the event’s official website.