The new movie, “O Jerusalem,” looked promising with its artful opening credits, but it quickly revealed itself to be one of the worst films ever. An editor at the New Jersey Jewish News, which is publishing my more detailed review, had not intended to run a review at all because they had already published a feature article; but after reading my piece, she felt moved to do so as a public service.
Speaking after a preview screening at the Manhattan JCC, Tovah Feldshuh, who portrays Golda Meir yet again, indicated that “O Jerusalem” had a severe budgetary problem. She related that the director Elie Chouraqui “made it work” through the liberal use of stock documentary footage and spare editing. Two of her scenes were cut entirely. She even mentioned that the filming wasn’t entirely completed.
With all due respect to Ms. Feldshuh, the acting met a very low standard. Aside from Feldshuh, the only well-known members of the cast are Ian Holm as Ben-Gurion, played spot-on physically but completely without depth, and Tom Conti, unrecognizable to me in little more than a cameo as the British commanding general. The actors are imprisoned by their script, which makes them speechify rather than talk to each other.
Most of the characters are so badly drawn that looking at a cast listing afterwards, I didn’t remember most of them. And I didn’t much care what happened to them, even though several die. To call this ‘melodrama’ would be a step up, as melodramas often succeed in affecting our emotions.
Worse still, evidenced by their own publicity, the producers don’t even know what they purport to be doing. “O Jerusalem” is based upon the 1970s popular historical account of the same name, co-authored by Larry Collins and Dominique Lapierre. But a postcard publicizing the movie erroneously calls the book, a “novel.”
Lilly Rivlin, the immediate past president of Meretz USA and a filmmaker in her own right, had been a researcher for the book. She attended this screening and was very disappointed; she was nonplused when I showed her the postcard.
Although what has been written of these events since may supercede the authority of the work by Collins and Lapierre, it was an honest and powerful attempt to depict history. This movie muddies history entirely.
For example, the uninformed viewer would have no notion that the Arab Legion of Transjordan captured the Old City of Jerusalem. Its Jewish defenders are bloodied but still standing at the end of the battle and the combatants on both sides literally embrace each other, illustrating the film’s saccharin point of view that there are few bad guys here: There are hotheads and terrorists on both sides, with the Irgun and the Stern Gang the only ones explicitly named as such. Unseen forces have pushed Arabs and Jews into killing each other.
In the broadest sense, the conflict did make regular people (as opposed to monsters) fight each other, but this is generally the case with war. This movie is neither true to the book nor to history.