Selma Lagerlof's novel and stories which are at the origin of this film tell an episode of the history of Scandinavia that is very little known for the rest of the world. Part of the film happens in the cold landscape of the North, a country of lakes and forests, under a blue frozen light. The other part takes place under the blinding light and torrid sun of the Palestine of the beginning of the 20th century. The connection between the two is the story of a group of Swedish farmers fallen under the influence of a messianic priest who takes them into an incredible journey to Jerusalem, in the search of redemption and with the hope to witness the return of Jesus.
Jerusalem today still bears witness of these times. While the original participants in this adventure are long dead, and their descendants left the Holy Land forever during the stormy times of the 20th century the American Colony which hosted them still exists in name as well as the Russian Grounds, the Italian Hospital, or the German Compound. All are memories of a 19th century when the powers of the time and their churches tried to buy a piece of land in the Holy City soon to be released from the Ottoman rule. The endeavor described in the film is contemporary with the beginnings of the Zionist project of return of the Jewish people to its ancestral homeland, and the experiences they go through, the accommodation with the new arid land, the hostile climate, the foreign culture and hard cohabitation with the inhabitants of the land, all these are common also to the stories of the Jewish immigration of the time.
Bille August's 'Jerusalem' is a well made film, beautifully filmed and well acted, although lacking somehow the spark and the inspiration to become a memorable film. The classical story has in its center the strong and rational Ingmar, connected to his land and devoted to the continuation of a mode of life and of morals inherited from his ancestors. His love to the sensible and mystic Gertrude has no chance of being realized, and their paths seem to diverge forever when she lives for Jerusalem to follow the mystic preacher. The final coming together is also a fulfilling of a premonition, and at the same time the annihilation by reality of the phantasms of the religious dream. The whole film is a continuous dialog between reason and faith, but neither the story, nor the director did not intent to provide a definite answer as to where the balance lies. As in real life, a mix of of the two is in the being of everything that happens.
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