Ever since Jesus stopped by Jerusalem on his way to eternity, followers of his have been trekking to the Holy City, eager to walk in his footsteps. But few of those pilgrimages have had the gentle ironies of James' Journey to Jerusalem, a cinematic parable by Israeli director Ra'anan Alexandrowicz. Irony Number One: James (Siyabonga Melongisi Shibe) is African, a product of colonialism's missionary zeal. Irony Number Two: Upon touching down in Tel Aviv, James is mistaken for an illegal immigrant and thrown in jail. Irony Number Three: James is "saved" by a businessman named Shimi (Salim Daw), who hires him out at various menial jobs, pocketing most of the income. Irony Number Four: James, a Holy Innocent, comes to believe that working off his supposed debt to Shimi is in fact his destiny. Irony Number Five: James slowly adopts Shimi's business practices, making his own little pile of money at the other's expense. And Irony Number Six: James still somehow makes it to Jerusalem.
Yes, but by the time he gets there, it isn't the Jerusalem he thought it would be and he isn't the James he thought he was. A moral lesson in the not-so-fine art of compromise, James' Journey to Jerusalem suggests both that God works in mysterious ways and that there's a sucker born every minute -- two homilies that together add up to a notion of faith. "Don't be a frayer," people keep telling James, a frayer being someone who doesn't play the angles. When James first arrives, he's a frayer par excellence; wide-eyed, he stares at a tourism poster like it was the Dome of the Rock. But the Israelis he comes in contact with, money-changers all, beat it out of him. Only Shimi's father (Arie Elias), an old grouch who's holding on to a little piece of land worth a million bucks, reminds James that there are some things in life worth more than money. And the final irony of this beautifully fractured fairy tale is that only by learning the value of a shekel can James make it into the Promised Land.