A sweet escape

The first film by French codirectors Emmanuel Naccache and Stephane Belaisch tries to show the everyday side of Israeli society.

Jerusalem syndrome movie 88 248 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Jerusalem syndrome movie 88 248
(photo credit: Courtesy)
When Emmanuel Naccache and Stephane Belaisch, the French codirectors of The Jerusalem Syndrome, came to Israel for the first time years ago, they were both impressed to see how young Israelis were alive and awake. What they call "the touch of madness" in the Israeli youth immediately seduced them to the extent that they decided to write their first movie about it. "In Israel, young people know how to enjoy the present. I have the feeling that they are able to live their lives in an intense way," Belaisch told The Jerusalem Post. "For instance, elsewhere, generally young people are a little asleep: After high school, they study, they find a job, they get married and they have children... They take a train that never stops! Here, it's not so classical. After school, there's the army, then you work in order to earn money for a few months' trip to India or Thailand. Only after this you start to study. It is less structured, crazier. And we love it!" he added. For the two directors, what explains this attitude of the Israeli youth is the political situation in the country. "The fact that here, at 18 years old, when you are still a teenager, you find yourself in Gaza or Lebanon, carrying a weapon, has consequences on mentalities," said Emmanuel. To him, the fact that Israel is a small country where a lot of pressure piles up brings the youth a lust for discovery, a need to escape. And, in several ways, this is exactly what The Jerusalem Syndrome is about: escape. The first escape that people find in the film is that of Jonas, the French character, who is affected by the illness known as Jerusalem Syndrome. This illness, which touches 50 to 100 people a year, affects foreign tourists who visit the city for the first time. In most of the cases, people lose their memory and believe they are biblical figures. Tourists are sent back to their home country where symptoms completely disappear after a week. But for a moment, the affected person escapes real life and he remembers the illness as an adventure - not a sickness. "In our movie, the Jerusalem Syndrome illness is a metaphor," said Naccache. "It represents the rebirth that many people undergo when they arrive in Israel. Coming to Israel causes a radical change for some people, who start to question their life and decide to change it. And often, they find themselves and are reborn." And Naccache is a shining example of this phenomenon of rebirth, since he decided to quit his job as a strategic adviser after few years in Israel to devote himself to what he really liked: cinema. NACCACHE AND Belaisch's movie offers new stereotypes to the foreign audience. The two are fed up with the ideas people can have about Israel. "Most of the time, people only imagine the war here. They ignore the fact that people can also live normally," said Naccache. With his friend Belaisch, they try to show how human and normal Israeli society is and how alive the youth is. "One of the aims of our movie is to introduce to people to the rich range of the young Israeli society. That's why all the characters are caricatures - a young soldier girl, a yeshiva student, a new-age waitress, a young Russian prostitute, a young hippie. In a way, the idea is to install new clichés in people's minds, nearest to reality." To help them in this mission, the two directors had the same master: the famous Serbian movie director Emir Kusturica (Time of Gypsies, Black Cat, White Cat, Arizona Dream). "For us, it has been a reference for our movie, because Kusturica succeeded in showing the world the real Serbian society, how the everyday life of the people there really looked. He showed something other than war and ethnical problems that people were used to see on the news. So, what he did with Serbia, we tried to apply to Israel," explained Belaisch. The directors agree with the idea that Israeli movies are still too much a political instrument instead of being a purely artistic one. "There aren't enough movies that are just movies. With The Jerusalem Syndrome, we try to make a comedy just to amuse people. Nothing but entertainment. We didn't want any political message," Naccache stated. He explained that the first plot for the movie included a young Arabic character in a band. "But it was too risky, so we decide to give up the idea." "But at the same time," continued Belaisch, "this is also reality. Here in Israel, you don't face the conflict every day. You can also go out of your house the morning, come back at night, and nothing special happened during the day. So why not relate the story of a trip of a group of people through the country without mentioning the political context?" Belaisch and Naccache hope The Jerusalem Syndrome will be released abroad and will give people the desire to come for a sweet escape in Israel. Because, in their opinion, there is really no reason that someone not Jewish shouldn't want to come here and have a good time on vacation.