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Tue. Jul 23rd, 2024

Film Review: A House in Jerusalem

By Vaseline May30,2024
Film Review: A House in Jerusalem

ONE of the words for time often used in the Greek New Testament is: Kairos. It’s for those magical moments that transcend clock time (chronos), providing divine glimpses of eternity for those with eyes to see.

A house in Jerusalem (Cert. 12A) pays serious attention to such a concept. Palestinian writer/director Muayad Alayan implants the idea in a well-trodden story: a child dealing with the loss of a parent. Twelve-year-old Rebecca Shapiro (Miley Locke) has survived a car accident that killed her mother. In a desperate attempt to find solace, she and her father, Michael (Johnny Harris), emigrate from England to the old family home in Jerusalem. Relatives tell them that the house (in the Valley of the Ghosts neighborhood) was empty after the 1948 Arab-Israeli war.

It soon becomes clear that the property was bought for a pittance after the violent uprooting of the Palestinian owners. From then on, the traumatized Rebecca begins to notice sporadic signs of disturbance: a child’s drawing appears on a wall; an ornament falls to the floor. Michael understandably believes this is the work of his grieving daughter. We, the viewers, know she didn’t do anything.

Rebecca discovers a well on the property. She fishes out an old-fashioned doll, which Michael throws away. He worries that his daughter is still “acting outside of herself,” but it is precisely this ecstatic feeling that gives her visions that transcend normal time. Out of the well comes Rasha (Sheherazade Farrell), looking for her beloved doll. It turns out that she was hiding from armed men who invaded this house that was her home. Rasha awaits rescue by her parents, who fled amid the chaos without finding her.

It soon becomes clear that only Rebecca can see this other child. Both feel abandoned by loved ones. They are united by grief, and the time of the present (now) and the time of the past (1948) merge as they contemplate the future. Time stands still as we (not them) are asked how past wrongs can be righted. Rasha and Rebecca see themselves only as sisters in adversity, two sides of a humanity in danger of being forever polarized by contemporary political arrangements.

History may haunt our present, but that doesn’t turn Rasha into a ghost. There is something in this film that suggests that a conspiracy of silence about past injustices has caused the very stones of this house to scream in protest. Rasha is a memory of place, a reminder (to quote Eliot’s “Burnt Norton”) that all time is eternally present. Muayad Alayan has described his film as the souls of two lonely girls who joyfully meet over time. Sadness has certain benefits.

The fact that the film is set in the holy city of Jerusalem is also significant. It was Jesus who wept over it and said, “If only you had known on this day what makes for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes.” But they don’t belong to Rebecca and Rasha. A trip to Bethlehem leads to one Kairos moment, one that would have left the audience wanting more. Unfortunately, it’s an unlikely flaw in an otherwise compelling story.

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