The tumult that resulted in the creation of the State of Israel has been telescoped into an earnest but inert melodrama with the rather operatic title O Jerusalem. The film centers on the friendship between the Jewish New Yorker Bobby (J.J. Fields) and the Palestinian Saïd (Saïd Taghmaoui), who find themselves being torn into opposing sides as the British colonial occupation of the Holy Land gives way to a United Nations partition calling for the creation of a Jewish and an Arab state.
Director Elie Chouraqui strains to keep some degree of neutrality, but that’s not very easy given the situations (the Arabs keep stating they lived in Palestine for thousands of years, yet it is obvious they are the ones who are agitating for a civil war in the region). There’s also a bit of romance with Bobby falling for a sexy Sabra (Maria Pappas) who knows how to handle firearms. Every now and then, the characters pause to comment on history-making events - even if it means they are standing by their radios listening to an announcer proclaim the King David Hotel was blown up or that Guatemala cast its U.N. General Assembly vote in favor of a Palestine partition. As a history lesson, the film is so elementary and silly that you’d half-expect to find Mr. Peabody and Sherman peeking around the Wailing Wall.
But the fraying friendship between the Jewish and Arab leads is the core of the film, and that’s the main problem with the film. By constantly emphasizing feel-good fraternal bonds in the midst of the growing chaos, the film echoes Rodney King’s vain plea about everyone trying to get along - with dismally predictable results.
The only real diversion comes when a few minor stars turn up in cameo roles. Ian Holm, wearing a fright wig, turns up as David Ben-Gurion while Tovah Feldshuh appears as a scowling Golda Meir. The real scene-stealer, though, is Tom Conti as a stuffy British military officer who cannot wait to evacuate the volatile region. Conti is visibly bored with his surroundings and huffs through his lines with the impatience of a B-lister who can’t wait to grab his paycheck and race to the next inglorious project.