A 1996 Swedish feature released directly to American home video in 1998, JERUSALEM is a high quality, late 19th century-set drama about a small Swedish community caught in the grip of religious fervor.
Though still a boy, Ingmar is left the family farm when his father dies. His older sister Karin (Pernilla August), whose irresponsible husband covets the inheritance, places her brother in the protective care of the local minister, Reverend Storm (Bjorn Granath). She agrees to manage the farm
until Ingmar is old enough to do so himself.
As a young man, Ingmar (Ulf Friberg) fails in love with Gertrud (Maria Bonnevie), Storm's daughter. At the same time, a mysterious minister, Hellgum (Sven-Bertl Taube), arrives in town. A harsh, fervent preacher, Hellgum upsets many townspeople but wins over several others, among them Karin and
Gertrud. Ingmar is shocked when he learns that Karin has given his farm to Hellgum, who establishes a religious commune on it. One day, Hellgum tells his assembly that God has called him to Jerusalem to join a larger sect, and promptly sells the farm. Unable to purchase it himself, Ingmar agrees
to marry the buyer's daughter, Barbro (Lena Endre), in hope of regaining control of the land, even though it means losing Gertrud. Gertrud, meanwhile, accompanies Hellgum to Palestine, where she and other followers move in with the sect. Over time, Gertrud comes to hate the sect's ascetic ways,
although her faith remains strong.
When her father dies, Barbro offers to give Ingmar the farm and also proposes divorce, knowing that he still loves Gertrud. Ingmar agrees and goes to Jerusalem to find and bring back Gertrud. Gertrud resists Ingmar's beseeching, but eventually is persuaded to return with him. Upon arrival in
Sweden, however, Ingmar discovers that Barbro has borne him a son in his absence. For Barbro's sake, Gertrud renounces any love for Ingmar. Quickly embracing his responsibility as a father, Ingmar takes his son to a church, has him baptized, and names him Ingmar.
JERUSALEM is an elaborate and intelligent adaptation of Nobel prize-winning author Selma Lagerlof's 1903 novel, itself based on a true story. Perhaps in deference to his source, writer-director Bille August has structured the film like a novel. Individual sequences are as fully developed and
self-contained as chapters in a book, but are most meaningful when considered as part of an overarching narrative scheme. The film's pace is deliberate and steady, August directing with great attention to characterization and plot development. The resulting work delivers the narrative satisfaction
of well-written literature.
The overall production contributes to a sense of grandness. The production design by Anna Asp is exact, carefully inclusive of such small but atmospheric details as the kind of decorations that would grace a small community wedding. The great cinematographer Jorgen Persson (August's regular
director of photography) captures the simultaneously enchanting and forbidding qualifies of both the cold Swedish countryside and the arid desert city (the Jerusalem sequences were actually shot in Morocco).
Yet for all its quality, JERUSALEM is never emotionally engaging. August has given the film a lovely, minutely crafted texture, but he never gets below the surface, and while JERUSALEM is great to watch it is not particularly engrossing. The characters are vividly drawn and their motivations and
actions are clear, but August's approach to the material is so removed that they remain distant, their problems unmoving. The austerity that defined August's PELLE THE CONQUEROR (1988) was appropriate to depicting the harsh lives of its protagonists, but is here misplaced in what is essentially a
story of unfulfilled passion.
At the very least, however, JERUSALEM is a prime example of movie craftsmanship; and as a cautionary tale of the divisiveness of sectarianism, it is as timely today as when Lagerlog first wrote it. (Violence, nudity, sexual situations.)
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- Released: 1996
- Rating: PG-13
- Review: A 1996 Swedish feature released directly to American home video in 1998, JERUSALEM is a high quality, late 19th century-set drama about a small Swedish community caught in the grip of religious fervor. Though still a boy, Ingmar is left the family farm wh… (more)