Silly but fun 'Jerusalem Syndrome'

An enjoyable comedy, the movie was one of the happy surprises of the 2007 Jerusalem Film Festival.

temple mount 88 (photo credit: )
temple mount 88
(photo credit: )
THE JERUSALEM SYNDROME Rating: Three stars out of five Written and directed by Stephane Belaisch and Emmanuel Naccache. 93 minutes. In Hebrew and French, with Hebrew titles. w/ Liron Levo, Lionel Abelanski The Jerusalem Syndrome, an enjoyable comedy, was one of the happy surprises of the 2007 Jerusalem Film Festival. Though it might have received more attention had it not been overshadowed by the extraordinarily success of the more serious The Band's Visit. In any case, the fact that it's opening now is good news for moviegoers who want to see a farce that's silly but not stupid. The film's French directors, Stephane Belaisch and Emmanuel Naccache, have managed to pull off the considerable feat of making a movie about Israeli stereotypes that is actually funny, even saying something real about the types it lampoons. Liron Levo, a handsome actor who has often been burdened with serious and symbolic roles, proves himself to be a gifted deadpan comic as Avi, a Tel Aviv delivery man who is in love with Ivana (Lucy Dubinchik), a young prostitute about to be sold by her Georgian pimp Igor (Haim Zanati) to another pimp in Jaffa. Avi realizes that he must act quickly to free her. So, he steals a shared cab (sherut) to drive her away from danger. But the cab isn't empty, and they pick up others along the way, eventually taking along a French civil servant (Lionel Abelanski), who suffers from Jerusalem Syndrome, an actual psychosis that afflicts mostly non-Jews visiting Jerusalem - a kind of rapture that makes them believe they are holy. This particular buttoned-up Frenchman becomes convinced that he is the biblical Jonah and walks around in white robes, quoting lines from the Bible. Other passengers include a yeshiva student (Dan Herzberg) bringing a special streimel to a rebbe he worships, a sexy soldier (Gala Kogan), and Sheli (Roni Hadar), a waitress immersed in New Age culture, who convinces them all to go to some kind of love festival in the desert. Meanwhile, the group is pursued by the ruthless Igor, the Ben-Gurion quoting pimp, and an overly confident cop (Albert Iluz). That's the basic plot, but what a summary doesn't convey is how truly funny it all is, nor how rare it is to find a comedy that makes fun of its characters while remaining affectionate towards them. Although the directors may be French, they know Israel well and aren't afraid to take each situation to its logical - and sometimes illogical - conclusion. What Belaisch and Naccache have done perfectly here is capture the absurdity of life in Israel. These archetypes: yeshiva student, sexy soldier, deluded Frenchman, New Age disciple, and prostitute might actually all find themselves shoulder to shoulder in such a shared cab. The fun here is how the co-writers zero in on our oddly multi-cultural society and highlight its potential for comic misunderstandings and conflicts. This is a perfect film for immigrants to these shores in need of a reminder of what drew them to Israel in the first place. But more than anything else, this is a comedy that doesn't take itself too seriously. For every minute that passes, the flick becomes sillier and makes less sense. But through the laughs, the co-directors manage to make a more intelligent comment on Israeli life than a many serious filmmakers has. One of the comic standouts in a fine ensemble cast is Haim Zanati as Igor, who seems to be channeling Borat, the crazed pimp. The biggest drawback is that pimps are not this cute and funny nor are prostitutes who've spent a few years with them as dewy and sweet as Ivana. Though Lucy Dubinchik (who played the title role in Saint Clara as a young teen) is very likable in this role. In real life, when all our diverse worlds collide, the result isn't usually as much fun as it is here. But as you watch The Jerusalem Syndrome, you'll believe that life could really be like this. At least until the movie ends.