'P.S. Jerusalem': Film Review
Danae Elon's documentary depicts the tensions that resulted after she and her family moved to Jerusalem, the city where she grew up.
Filmmaker Danae Elon has used her personal life to explore issues related to Judaism and Israel in such films as Partly Private and Another Road Home. Her latest effort, crafted very much in the same style, concerns her decision to move back to Jerusalem, the city where she grew up, and the emotional and familial difficulties that resulted. A cross between home movie and documentary essay, P.S. Jerusalem emerges as a rough-hewn but moving effort that, thanks to the ever-volatile situation in the Middle East, proves unfortunately timely.
Elon’s feelings about returning to Israel are made even more complicated by the fact that her father, noted Israel journalist and writer Amos Elon, had grown so disillusioned with his native country’s treatment toward the Palestinians that he moved to Italy in 2002 and asked his daughter to never return. After his death, Danae — pregnant and living in Brooklyn with her French/Algerian Jewish husband Philip and their two children — decided to move back to her hometown. Recalling her younger years, she jokingly comments, “What is a homeland if not a place where you kiss a girl for the first time?”
The transition proves more difficult than she imagined. The bulk of the film, which she photographed as well as directed, depicts the family’s attempts to adjust to the city whose Jewish and Arab residents have become increasingly hostile.
Determined to counter the prevailing attitudes, Danae and Philip enroll their children in the progressive Hand to Hand School, the only bilingual school in the city in which Jewish and Arab children study together and become immersed in each other’s culture. The couple’s oldest son, Tristan, takes to the new environment, becoming close friends with an Arab youth with whom he communicates in the language appropriate to the neighborhood they happen to be in. His commentary and curious questioning about the family’s new situation provides a sort of guide for how well things are going for them.
And, as it turns out, things are not going well, as the couple’s relationship becomes increasingly strained. Philip, a photographer, has difficulty finding work. He also becomes increasingly embittered by the racism and religious discord all around them. He finally issues an ultimatum, telling Danae that if she wants to remain in Jerusalem, their marriage may not survive.
Like many deeply personal documentaries, P.S. Jerusalem occasionally smacks of self-involvement and self-indulgence. Diffuse and rambling, it feels longer than its brief running time, and Elon’s voiceover musings are of variable interest. But it certainly provides a vivid portrait of cultural dislocation that is all the more heartbreaking for its filmmaker’s intense involvement in the story.
Production company: Entre Deux Mondes Productions
Distributor: International Film Option
Director-cinematographer: Danae Elon
Screenwriter-editor: Sophie Farkas Bolla
Producers: Paul Cadieux, Danae Elon
Composer: Olivier Alary