Jerusalem

on March 07, 1997 by Craig Vickers
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   Bille August's latest film, based on a Sellma Lagerlof novel, is an epic set in late 19th-century Sweden. The story begins the death of a father who, before he dies, tells his son Ingmar that he must grow up to be a leader if the local parish is to survive. Grown to young manhood, Ingmar (Ulf Friberg) begins to romance a local preacher's daughter, Gertrud (Maria Bonnevie), as he tries to revive the family logging business.
   One day, a fire-and-brimstone preacher named Hellgum arrives; the effect on the parish inhabitants is immediate. When a showdown with the distrustful Ingmar causes Hellgum to leave, he persuades many followers--including Gertrud and Ingmar's sister Karin (Pernilla August)--to set sail for the holy city of Jerusalem, where they will await the Second Coming. Before she leaves, Karin auctions off the family farm. So that he will eventually possess the property, Ingmar enters into a loveless marriage with the new owner's daughter. For the rest of the film, August parallels Ingmar's life in the parish with the trials of the new colony in Jerusalem.
   August (who also helms this month's "Smilla's Sense of Snow") tries to endow each event with monumental significance; as a result, the narrative is a virtual catalogue of catastrophe. The writer/director doesn't allow the audience to emotionally engage with his hero; Ingmar is certainly noble and diligent, but the despair and anguish he must feel never comes through.
   August fares better with Gertrud, making her religious mania palpable. The performances are strong, and the cinematography by Jorgen Persson is ravishing. Minor characters, including those played by veterans Max Von Sydow and Olympia Dukakis, are mere window dressing, and the 166-minute film could use a good trimming. A film of "Jerusalem's" length should be totally absorbing; instead, it's episodic and rambling, allowing only intermittent interest. Starring Ulf Friberg, Maria Bonnevie and Pernilla August. Directed and written by Bille August. Produced by Ingrid Dahlberg. A First Look release. Drama. Swedish-language; English subtitles. Rated PG-13 for some violence and a scene of sensuality. Running time: 166 min
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