‘O Jerusalem’ offers involving story against historical backdrop


O Jerusalem tackles a worthy topic, the founding of Israel, but this historic fiction film is more a basic introduction than a sweeping epic. Still, it is a good primer, with nice action sequences and polished production and a nice if familiar personal story of cross-conflict friendship.

The film tells a personal story of friendship between American Jewish Bobby Goldman (J.J. Feild) and Jerusalem-born Palestinian Said Chahine (Said Taghmaoui) against a backdrop skimming the earliest events in the birth of Israel and the battle for Jerusalem. The two men meet and bond in post-World War II New York, along with an extended circle of friends, but as events unfold in British Palestine, they are both drawn in and drawn to Jerusalem. O Jerusalem also features cameo roles for historic figures such as David Ben-Gurion and Golda Meir. The friendship of Bobby and Said is solid and they are both decent people but the friends are caught up in the circumstances of history.

Based on the 1971 bestseller O Jerusalem, this Israeli/American/ Italian/French production strives for some balance in telling its story in alternating points of view. Segments from the Israeli, Palestinian and British viewpoint appear, with the date and place for events given in Hebrew, Arabic and English. It is the Brits who come out really looking bad, stepping aside when the Palestinians lay siege to the Jerusalem Jews, but leaders of surrounding Arab countries also come off badly, verbally encouraging the Palestinians to fight the Jews but largely more concerned with playing geopolitics and oil revenues to do more.

The alternating viewpoints mean that the movie loses some narrative drive but works better later in the film. Early on, when there is more focus on the Palestinian story, there is a nagging little worry that the film will be unbalanced but it rights itself by the time it switches to the Israeli point of view in the battle for Jerusalem. The battle scenes and the scenes with historical figures are the best parts of the film, while the obligatory love story is less affecting.

O Jerusalem is a reasonably involving movie, if not very original in its fictional story portion. The leading actors are all attractive and do an adequate job, although they are often upstaged by actors in supporting roles. J.J. Feild, who bears a striking resemblance to Jude Law, is appealing but brings nothing remarkable to his role as Bobby. As Said Chahine, actor Said Taghmaoui, a French-born actor of Moroccan descent who also appears in the upcoming The Kite Runner, offers a bit more in his role but needed a stronger connection with the other lead to make it really work. The fictional tale also offers love stories and other supporting characters but the entire personal story is too familiar and predictable to make much of an impression. On the other hand, actors such as Ian Holm as David Ben-Gurion and Tovah Feldshuh as Golda Meir elevate the historic part of the film to a higher level.

The film makes a plea for peace. Extremists on both sides are presented as an obstacle to the majority who want peace.

There is nothing in O Jerusalem that anyone with a basic knowledge of the founding of Israel does not know but it is still such a worthy topic that the film is worth a trip to the theater, if your expectations are fairly modest. Even with its shortcomings, O Jerusalem has many moving moments and a heartbreaking cry for peace.

O Jerusalem will open this month at Plaza Frontenac Cinema.