O big deal, says Judge Tamika Adair.
The historic struggle for Jerusalem and the birth of Israel.
O Jerusalem haphazardly combines the historic event of the Palestinian-Jewish conflict at the creation of Israel with a human drama between two friends. It struggles to remain neutral on all fronts: Jewish, Arab and British. But it results in making the Jews seem like martyrs, bastardizes the Arabs (no surprise there), and the British—more interested in leaving the mess than helping either side (sound familiar America?). The film has admirable intentions but falls apart due to the weak foundation that the wooden performances, formulaic storyline, bland writing, and the grandiose score provide.
Facts of the Case
Upon meeting each other on the New York streets in 1946, Bobby Goldman, a Jewish-American World War II veteran, and Said Chahine, an Arab-Muslim student, become fast friends. A year later, they are thrust into the middle of the encroaching battle between Arabs and Jews for the rights to Jerusalem. Although their familial ties, political views and religious values continuously test the bounds of their relationship, they strive to remain friends despite their obvious differences.
After serving in World War II, Bobby Goldman (J.J. Field, Telstar) literally runs into Said Chahine, (Said Taghmaoui, The Kite Runner) a young Arab from Jerusalem in the streets of New York. However, the narrow streets and cobblestone alleys portrayed are no New York I've ever seen and scream of somewhere else. The look is more European than American.
The narrative development's first problem begins when they breeze through the burgeoning relationship between Said and Bobby. No attention is paid to making the characters compelling and interesting or their relationship with each other believable. One relationship that had cinematic promise was the unlikely relationship between Hadassah and Bobby. Hadassah's indifference to Bobby in the beginning is understandable but as their relationship progresses, there is no elevated passion between the two. Their interactions are dry at best and really don't climax until the end which by then seems unconvincing.
As clumsy as the acting is, the writing doesn't get much better. Often, the characters repeat their interchangeable clichés over and over again and sometimes right after each other. A prime example resides in the scene after Bobby kills one of Said's relatives:
Bobby: I didn't come here to fight. I came here to find peace.
Well, I'm glad they cleared that up because after hearing Bobby proclaim his quest for peace many times before, it didn't really sink in until now.
I guess writer/director Elie Chouraqui (Harrison's Flowers) thinks repetition breeds authenticity. In reality, it's more like contempt. Although dialogue can be memorable and poignant, I appreciate when it's more minimalist and less flowery. In its failed efforts to be affecting, the dialogue here is rather tiresome and amateurish. The way people excessively grieve the dead with loud screams and endlessly lamenting "No" while falling over themselves, is nothing but a throwback to two-bit soap opera acting. It's purely farcical.
Another thing that bothered me was the death of Yael. I don't remember who Yael is. She was such a minor character that wasn't introduced until later and there wasn't much mention of her until her death. So the attention they pay to her death is futile since most people won't remember who she was to be so significant.
Stephen Endelman's score oversells the film with its excessive swells and sweeping orchestra. Scores aren't supposed to drive the emotion in a story. That's the actor's job. The score is supposed to serve as a subtle undercurrent; instead the score advertises itself too much and sometimes cancels itself out completely.
The overall look of the film is desaturated to mimic an aged feel. The audio mix is okay. In some spots the score competes with the dialogue and the sound effects don't embrace you in all their sonic potential, which in turn makes the "war" seem more like a couple of soldiers with rifles.
There are no special features—which is probably a blessing.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
An adaptation of the 1972 book by Larry Collins and Dominique Lapierre, O Jerusalem suffers from the lack of narrative focus, but triumphs in its meticulous delivery of the historical resonance of the period. More moving than the narrative that unfolds, the archival footage that is interspersed within the story offers a rich background to an explosive conflict that echoes the situation in the Middle East today. Clips of emaciated people in concentration camps and the dead stacked on top of each other like bricks touch you in ways that the film can't.
The film serves as a valid educational primer on the events surrounding the creation of Israel. However, I would prefer to gain my education in a less tortuous manner. I suffered through viewings in order to get a clear grasp of what was going on. I could have received the same education by doing my own research and saved myself the agony.
The greatest mistake O Jerusalem makes is in refusing to distinguish who was the hero and who was the villain. Instead it chooses to deal only with indefinite themes and present them in superfluous, melodramatic ways. O Jerusalem plays it too safe. So much spilt blood, death and anger arose from this conflict that it seems irresponsible to oversimplify the drama to we-are-different-but-the-same terms.
The age-old issue of who has the rightful claim to Israel to me seems ridiculous. However it is clear that there is no chance that anyone will ever be able to peacefully coexist. Vengeance is their primary motivation rather than harmony. No one is interested in peace, just their own motives. They'd rather burn it to the ground then let either one inhabit it. Since no one seems to offer a better solution, including the film, maybe that is what they should do. My mom always told me and my sister when fighting over a toy, if you can't play together then you both forfeit the right to the toy.
What is painfully obvious in that analogy and this film is that both parties are acting like foolish children. In sixty years, nothing much has changed at all. How sad is that?
Guilty for showing me an interesting issue but proceeding to bore me to tears so that I don't even care about it anymore.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Anchor Bay
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