June 14, 2004 – The 2004 Forum Film Festival concludes Wednesday evening with a showing of "James' Journey to Jerusalem," which received the 2003 Cannes Film Festival Director's Award.
The Israeli film chronicles the rocky road of a devout Christian youth from an isolated African village who is chosen to make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. James (Siyabonga Melongisi Shibe) undertakes the journey with the sponsorship of neighbors who expect him to return with wisdom and inspiration to share with them.
Literally as soon as he steps off the plane, James learns that the Holy Land isn't what it used to be in Bible-story times. He is taken into custody at the airport, suspected of trying to infiltrate the country in order to work illegally, and is tossed into jail to await deportation.
His prayers in jail are promptly answered as a mysterious stranger named Shimi (Salim Daw) materializes to post bail for him. His savior is no saint, alas, but a "manpower agent" for a sort of indentured-servants ring who springs illegal migrant workers from jail only to put them to work in hard labor jobs.
Giving the comedy/drama "an unsettling edge," one reviewer notes, is "James's realization that he can play this game too, subcontracting fellow laborers for jobs their bosses don't know about."
James accepts that he owes the boss contractor, Feda (Gregory Tal), a debt and agrees to work until it's paid off. His obedience and positive attitude impress the old man for whom he works as a gardener. So does the youth's uncanny ability to roll double-sixes in backgammon, which the old man parlays into a way to win wagers with friends, claiming that he has hurt his arm and must use James as his designated roller.
James also finds himself caught up in helping a Christian congregation that seems continually in need of his aid.
"The film explores the economic, moral and spiritual hypocrisies of Western society through an evocative portrait of modern Israel's cultural and generational divisions," according to a release from the Forum.
Directed and co-written by Israeli first-time feature filmmaker Ra'anan Alexandrowicz, the movie is, according to EFilmCritic.com, "a deceptively gentle social satire brimming with likable performances and smart humor, set in an idyllic non-violent version of modern-day Jerusalem."
A Chicago Tribune reviewer said it "reintroduces the once-popular concept of film as allegory as it follows a Christian pilgrim on his bumpy road to salvation."
A Christian Science Monitor critic said it "has a thought-provoking mix of skepticism, hopefulness and respect for all but its most scurrilous characters. Hollywood could learn from its canny blending of psychological and multicultural insights."
A New York Post reviewer pronounced it "a parable about greed. But don't let that serious-sounding description keep you away. It also is funny, knowing and immensely enjoyable."
The international appeal of the film is evidenced by the awards it has received at the film festivals of Cannes, Valencia, New Delhi and Oslo. It was just released in the United States in March, so St. Thomas filmgoers are getting to see it at the same time as cinema fans throughout the nation.
The movie will be shown at Market Square East only on Wednesday night, starting at 8 p.m. Tickets are $15; they are available in advance at Dockside Bookshop, Home Again, Interiors, Modern Music/Nisky Center, Parrot Fish Music and the Reichhold Center for the Arts box office. If seats are still available, tickets will be available at the theater prior to the screening. For more information, call the Reichhold box office at 693-1559.
Publisher's note : Like the St. Thomas Source now? Find out how you can love us twice as much — and show your support for the islands' free and independent news voice … click here.