(Swedish, 1996, 168 minutes, color, 35mm)
following film notes were prepared for the New York State Writers
Institute by Kevin Jack Hagopian, Senior Lecturer in Media Studies
at Pennsylvania State University:
It is late in the 19th century. We are in a small, psychologically isolated Swedish town, suddenly swept up in a kind of spiritual contagion. The town is bent on demonstrating its passion for godliness, often at the expense of its humanity. At the center of the growing spiritual hurricane is "Ingmar" (Ulf Friberg), who has inherited his family's farm. His brother-in-law wants the farm and the prosperity it represents, and he and Ingmar's sister conspire to make Ingmar a kind of ward of the local minister, the aptly-named "Reverend Storm" (Bjorn Granath). There is a deep attraction between Ingmar and Reverend Storm's daughter "Gertrud" (Marie Bonnevie). The tempest gathers force when another minister, "Hellgum" (Sven-Bertl Taube) comes to the little town. A strange, messianic figure, Hellgum insists on total commitment to his vision of a God who uses Hellgum as His instrument. The gesture of dedication Hellgum insists on tear apart the Ingmar's already strained family, and threatens his love for Gertrud. The town's cultish fealty to Hellgum forces Ingmar and Gertrud to make an extraordinary journey. What follows is the town's pentecost, an expression of faith that takes everyone in the film to the edge of madness in a journey of thousands of miles.
Few films depict religious passion with such power. Perhaps this is because of the very profundity, the absolute subjectivity, of deep religious vision, and the alienating effect that witnessing this vision, second-hand, has on others. Other films have used very traditional means to depict transcendent religious experiences. THE SONG OF BERNADETTE, THE TEN COMMANDMENTS, OUR LADY OF FATIMA, and a dozen others come to mind, films in which directors seem timid about using a visual style as daring as the possibilities of the supernatural visitations their films are engaged with. A few exceptions stand out. Carl-Theodor Dreyer's THE PASSION OF JOAN OF ARC, Jean-Luc Godard's HAIL MARY, and Kevin Smith's DOGMA each chose formal and narrative methods as disturbing as their stories of faith rewarded or thwarted. In Dreyer's THE PASSION OF JOAN OF ARC, the story is told almost entirely through tight, constricting close-ups, as if the world outside of Joan's miraculous visions simply does not exist for her. HAIL MARY's delightful blasphemy -- in Godard's film, the Virgin Mary is a basketball playing gas station attendant -- restored some of the working class (and therefore revolutionary) sensibilities the story of the Christ must have had when it was first propounded. DOGMA's absurdism and relocation of the Holy Land to New Jersey resituated a holy narrative in the prosaic, everyday world from which it sprang.
Director Bille August, whose previous work includes the masterful PELLE THE CONQUEROR, chooses a heightened, super-realism for his representation of the explosive emotions and twisted personal relations of JERUSALEM, and for his portrayal of the forbidding landscapes in which these emotions and relationships are played out. The Swedish countryside of JERUSALEM is bleakly beautiful, and the film's Mideast sequences, actually shot in Morocco, range across desolate, rocky, sun-broiled deserts. These places are allegorical, expressions of the inner torment, renunciation, and uncertainty that the unsmiling God of JERUSALEM insists on.
— Kevin Hagopian, Penn State University
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