James' Journey to Jerusalem (2004)
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as Sallah Shabati
as Shimi Shabati
as Rachel Shabati
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as Immigration Officer
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Critic Reviews for James' Journey to Jerusalem
This darkly comic parable wonderfully contrasts modern corruptions against simple Christian faith.
An engaging and poignant film, one that could only be done by an insider.
A fluid and often funny morality tale.
Audience Reviews for James' Journey to Jerusalem
[font=Century Gothic][color=blue]"James' Journey to Jerusalem" is about a young pilgrim, James, from a small village in Africa on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. On the way, he is detained at the airport in Israel under suspicion of seeking work. He is freed by a corrupt customs official to work in the employ of Shimi. James is surprised to find Israel a secular, materialistic state.[/color][/font]
[font=Century Gothic][color=#0000ff]"James' Journey to Jerusalem" is a thoughtful and occasionally poignant movie. It sidesteps stereotypes to present a story about capitalism and the state of immigration in Israel(also covered in "Alila" and "Yana's Friends" but here racism is added into the mix). I thought it did a better job of showing the adjustments to a new society than "Lost Boys of Sudan" did. It is also helped by strong central performances. [/color][/font]
Who We Are Versus Who We Should Be
At the beginning of the film, an Israeli immigration officer (Yael Levental) tells James (Siyabonga Melongisi Shibe) that she has heard his claim--that meeting her, an actual Israeli Jew like in the Bible, is a great joy to him--thousands of times. She does not believe it; experience gives her no reason to believe it. Young men like James are in Israel, here Tel Aviv, to make money and lots of it. She tells him that there are many other places he could go to do so, and why is it always Israel? Her experiences have convinced her that no one claiming pilgrimage who is an illegal immigrant is actually on one, that she should have no reason to believe they are. James burns with zeal, and he wears a large cross, but to her, he is just one more man across the desk trying to use piety as a dodge.
James is from a small village in Africa. He has agreed to go on pilgrimage to Jerusalem and then return to be a pastor to his village. It is his duty to his people. Only he gets busted by immigration in Tel Aviv first. He gets put into a lockup with other men from around the world, all of whom have come to Israel for one reason or another, and it's probably true that it's money for a lot of them. Either way, however, he is chosen by Shimi Shabati (Salim Dau) to be released and come work for him as a house cleaner. Shimi has a deal going with a man who helps run the jail, apparently, and he chooses James because James looks trustworthy or something. While James is there, he rapidly loses interest in pilgrimage and gains it in money, starting his own secret business on the side, undercutting Shimi's prices.
Of course, there are the obligatory moments where James is shown to become what he does not wish to be, but the most important one is also the most subtle. No mention is made by anyone of the fact that, by the end of the movie, James no longer wears his cross. Oh, it's a big deal when he yells at Sallah (Arieh Elias), Shimi's father, and it's a big deal when he uses the same words to a former friend that Shimi uses to him. However, no one comments on the cross. Indeed, I'm not sure when he stopped wearing it. Midway through the movie, he has the choice between completing his pilgrimage and making more money; it is possible that this is the moment when he takes off the cross, but if it is, I missed it. The point is, he leaves his village for a quest which he then loses the trail of, and we may not even notice the first steps aside.
The fact is, James is an innocent at first. It was Shibe's first movie, and it was an excellent choice to cast an unknown. At first, he even declines his pay so that he may pay of his debts faster and make his pilgrimage and return home. We know, however, that he stays in Tel Aviv for at least a couple of months before the climax of the movie. He is there long enough to bring Sallah's garden from a barren patch of weeds to a real showpiece, somewhere actually worth visiting. You can see sitting out there. He tells Sallah that he is a farmer, but by the end, he is not doing the work himself but instead hiring it done so he can make even more money. James's na´vetÚ is a little overdone at the beginning of the movie, I think to throw his later worldliness into sharper contrast. It is to Shibe's credit that he manages to pull it off.
There are many things to be noted about James, Shimi, Sallah, the background characters. I have seen mention made of the idea that Shimi's attitude seems drawn from the worst possible stereotypes, but honestly, you would be able to find him in any country, even James's own. Shimi is trying to get ahead, and he does it by taking advantage of those around him. Doubtless the world holds many Shimis, and the fact that he is a Jewish stereotype does not mean that he isn't a reasonable character to present here. After all, James himself begins to fit the stereotype by the end of the film. At the beginning, he had been coming to know and love Sallah, helping the man break out of a crusty shell which had probably been building up around him since the death of his wife. By the end, he might as well be putting it back in place by himself. It has nothing to do with ethnic heritage; it has to do with attitude. Wealth, or the prospect of it, is corrupting James, the point being that it could just as easily corrupt any of us.
This is the story of James, a young, Christian man from a small African village who's sent to Jerusalem on a religious pilgrimage. His plans are temporarilly dashed, however, when upon arrival at the airport he's mistaken for a job-seeking illegal immigrant and is jailed pending deportation. But shortly thereafter, he's "saved" by a man named Shimi who regularly uses the immigration pen as a cheap source of immigrant labor.
Despite James' protestations that he doesn't want to work, he wants to go to Jerusalem and so on, Shimi takes James' passport and puts him on his all-immigrant cleaning crew. He claims James can't leave til he repays the bail money he now owes.
The early part of the movie was really enjoyable to watch. James is an extremely likable character and you can't help but root for him. He forms a bond with Shimi's curmudgeonly old father and their budding relationship seems, for a while, to be the main focus of the film. But as time passes, things veer off in a new direction. James' religious quest is replaced with a growing desire to make money and as he becomes a more and more successful entrepreneur, his integrity and values slowly erode.
What does this all mean? Was it inevitable that our honest, religious idealist hero would succumb to the temptations of capitalistic greed. Is corruption unavoidable in modern society? Will Jesus always lose out to a new pair of Nikes? I'm sure there's a message here somewhere, and though it seemed to be embraced by the small crowd of my fellow movie-goers who applauded enthusiastically as the credits rolled (it's not a PLAY, it's a MOVIE; the actors can't hear you!), I didn't quite get it.
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