James’ Journey to Jerusalem is a slight but modestly winning Israeli drama about an African man on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land and his hope that he’ll be able to bring the message of God back to his village. The film opens rather naïvely, with vibrant murals depicting African natives (the exact type that seem to always festoon the walls of missionaries) complemented by Sarafina spirituals. Nevertheless, James (Siyabonga Melongisi Shibe, in the type of unaffected non-performance that reaps honors—in this case, from the Jerusalem Film Festival—mostly because the character is little more than a tabula rasa suckling on audience sympathies) is sitting in a jail cell by the second scene. A frazzled Tel Aviv immigration officer accuses him of using his pilgrimage as a front for attempting to take economic advantage. James insists he’s only interested in getting to Jerusalem, but such is writer-director Ra’anan Alexandrowicz’s penchant for easy dramatic irony that once the man is bailed out of jail by Shimi (Salim Daw), a sort of Fagan for immigrants, he ends up fulfilling the officer’s worst suspicions (to the point where he marvels that a local shopping mall is “the land of milk and honey”). Shimi runs a cleaning service and skims a hefty portion of the profits from the top, though he’s careful to only “employ” people unfamiliar with the true value of money, those who are green with the green. Though tightly wound and occasionally dutifully moralistic, the film whips-up a benign portrait of slavery instead of making a true-grit political statement on the nature of New World capitalism encroaching upon the very cradle of civilization. It’s a fable that’s too often aware of its own desire to be a fable. As far as James goes, his character arc is almost totally defined by how often he quotes from the Bible. As he spirals further and further down the slope of shady money-chasing (which fuels one notably provocative episode where the pastor at James’s surrogate church asks him to funnel some of his nouveau riche toward buying new supplies for the choir), his straight-from-the-mouth-of-God bon mots begin to give way to emulation of Shimi’s own ball-busting exhortations. Still, Alexandrowicz’s un-fable-like preoccupation with duality culminates in a wry twist on the nature of Christianity’s two kingdoms: the one above and the one here on Earth.
- Zeitgeist Films
- 87 min
- Ra'anan Alexandrowicz
- Ra'anan Alexandrowicz, Sami Duenias
- Siyabonga Melongisi Shibe, Arie Elias, Salim Daw, Sandra Schonwald, Florence Bloch, Gregory Tal, Hugh Masebenza
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