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April 16, 2004 - Image 50

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2004-04-16

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

Big Screen/Small Screen

the kind of idealism that has inspired pil-
grims and settlers for millennia.
But he barely has touched down
before reality rips through his reverie.
Suspected of coming to work illegally,
James is arrested. A jobber named Shimi
appears on the scene to bail him out,
only to put him to work on a cleaning
crew. At first, James wants only to pay off his
debt and be released from what amounts to
indentured servitude.
Shimi's father, Sallah, takes a shine to James,
especially after he discovers the novice's
exploitable ability to roll double sixes in
backgammon games. The old man even com-
pares James to the early Zionists. "All he ever
thinks about is the Bible and work," Sallah says.
But soon enough, James is captured by Israel's
consumer culture and reveals entrepreneurial
aptitude. He learns from his bosses the key to
getting by in Israel today: Don't be a frayer — a
pushover.
Alexandrowicz, who co-wrote the screenplay,
sees his film as an update of the 1964 Israeli
classic Sallah Shabati. In that movie — which
introduced audiences to the actor Topol — a
North African immigrant learns to navigate
Israel's Eurocentric bureaucracy.
"In my film, 40 years later," Alexandrowicz
said, "Sallah is teaching the new, new immigrant
to cope with the new, new system." The capitalist
system, that is.
While fictional, James'Journey sprouted from
Alexandrowicz's real-life acquaintance with an
African immigrant named James.
"He lived in Tel Aviv cleaning houses on a five-
year expired tourist visa," Alexandrowicz said. James
had worked as a banker in Nigeria before seeking

Land Of Dreams And None

Filmmaker examines when fantasy and reality of modern Israeli society collide
in tragicomic fable of migrant workers.

JULIA GOLDMAN

New York Jewish Week

A

land flowing with milk and honey,"
James, a South African Christian pil-
grim, says to a comrade as they take
in the sights of Tel Aviv.
But the only thing flowing in this scene from
James'Journey to Jerusalem — a new film by
Ra'anan Alexandrowicz — is commerce. James
and his co-worker are looking out over the
bustling escalator banks of a multistory shop-
ping mall.
A humorous tale that treats the issue of
Israel's migrant workers at the same time it sati-
rizes Israel's role as the "Holy Land," James'
Journey runs Friday-Sunday, April 16-18, at the
Detroit Film Theatre.
The film also will be screened several times as
part of this year's Jewish Community Center-
sponsored Lenore Marwil Jewish Film Festival,
which runs April 25-May 6. A fiction-feature
first for documentary filmmaker Alexandrowicz,
it premiered in January at the New York Jewish
Film Festival.
According to the filmmaker, James'Journey could
easily have been set in the United States or Europe.
"It's a contemporary film about money and
about how money influences us as people, how
money influences us as societies, how the princi-
ples of economics influence our interactions,"

South African actor Siyabonga Melongisi Shibe plays the
title role in "James' Journey to Jerusalem."

Alexandrowicz said in a telephone interview from
his home in Tel Aviv.
On a deeper level, it's also about how dreams —
personal, communal and national — get derailed
when they come into friction with reality.
"If I tell them back in the village how this place is,
they won't believe me," James, winningly played by
the South African actor Siyabonga Melongisi Shibe,
says in the film. "They'll be mad at me."
The young man has good reason to be disillu-
sioned. Primed to become the pastor of his fictional
village, he arrives at Ben-Gurion Airport filled with

Family Dynamics

Israeli documentary exposes relationship among siblings with a secret.

MICHAEL FOX

Special to the Jewish News

I

n the first-person documen-
tary Love Inventory, veteran
Israeli filmmaker David Fisher
examines the tensions among
his adult siblings. This being Israel,
Fisher's middle-aged brothers and
sister are neurotic, opinionated,
ambitious, self-centered and not the
least bit camera-shy.
The 2001 film, which is always
interesting, occasionally compelling
but ultimately unsatisfying, airs 11
p.m. Sunday, April 18, on Detroit
Public Television-Channel 56 and
other PBS stations nationwide.

,

4/16
2004

50

After their mother and father die in
quick succession, Fisher contrives to
unite his siblings around a family
mystery.
In 1952, with the Fishers resettled
in Israel after surviving the Holocaust
in Eastern Europe, their firstborn,
Sammy, died as an infant. But it
seems that Sammy had a twin sister,
who disappeared at birth.
As the eldest, filmmaker David
spearheads the search. Estee, the
newly divorced sister who's just
returned from Philadelphia, and
Gideon, a successful lawyer, are skep-
tical but not opposed.
Ronel, a top investigative journal-
ist, can't be bothered; indeed, he

spends the entire film- justifying his
emotional isolation (which extends
to his own children).
The youngest brother is Amnon, an
artist, actor and TV personality with
some episodes of psychosis in his
background and a predilection for
drugs. David concentrates much of
his energy on Amnon, though one
can judge whether he's impelled by
protectiveness, guilt or the wish to
control. Those are Amnon's acoustic
guitar noodlings on the soundtrack.
The search for the lost Fisher sister
— which leads to little-seen corners
of Israeli society such as hospitals,
cemeteries and archives — is innate-
ly fascinating and raises questions

that Fisher isn't particularly interest-
ed in answering.
Unfortunately, to the filmmaker
the search is a MacGuffin — to use
Alfred Hitchcock's term for an ele-
ment, such as the "government
secrets" the spies are after in North
by Northwest — that is intended
primarily to set the plot in motion.
The search itself occupies perhaps 30
minutes of the film, with conversations
between David and each sibling filling
the other hour. These discussions are
often revealing, since Israelis don't hesi-
tate to say what they feel without
regard to whom it hurts or shocks.
Given that national tendency
toward frankness, the presence of a
camera has little effect on the Fisher
clan. That adds an anything-can-hap-
pen quality to the viewing, but the
side effect is that none of the Fishers
comes off as particularly likable.
Eighty-five minutes with this family is
more than enough.

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