Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Next Year Jerusalem: Sight-Seeing in the State of Israel

Unlike most tourists traveling to Israel, security issues are the least of their worries. This group of eighty and ninety-some year-old Jewish retirees and their caretakers have more mundane health concerns to focus on as they prepare for their journey. It will be the trip of their lifetimes coming late in life for the subjects of David Gaynes’ Next Year Jerusalem (trailer here), which opens this Friday in New York.

You know every last resident of the Jewish Home for the Elderly in Fairfield votes in each election, so it is no surprise to find the state’s senior senator glad-handing the residents. He should remember they clearly support the State of Israel—and therefore probably do not consider it a potential apartheid state, unlike our current Secretary of State. Gaynes scrupulously avoids such political controversies, preferring to focus on the religious and spiritual significance of their pilgrimage instead.

Religion and spirituality can indeed be dramatic, but they never get overly messy in NYJ. Easily, the most intense scene captures their visit to Yad Vesham, where a Survivor in the Connecticut group meets a fellow Belgian Hidden Child, who will serve as their tour guide for the day. There is also a pleasant sequence at the Western Wall, where some local Rabbis take a shine to ninety-seven year old Bill Wein.

It is just great that these ten seniors were able to make this trip and get so much out of it—and that’s about all we’ve got here. This would make a good feature story for the Fairfield paper or even a spirited little short doc, but as a feature it is maybe just two or three steps above home travelogue (although technically, it looks completely professional). Christopher Garofalo’s performance of his elegant Suite for Flute, Violin, Cello, and Piano and Sonata for Flute and Piano also adds a note of class, while struggling to create a mood of wistful contemplation that never quite takes hold.

Perhaps Gaynes was reluctant to delve too deeply, lest he ruin the moments. Frankly, one wonders if a filmmaker like Dmitriy Khavin (a documentarian with a foreign correspondent’s sensibility) would have gotten at something deeper. All very nice, but not much more, Next Year Jerusalem opens this Friday (5/16) in New York at the Quad Cinema.