Eight elderly souls (average age, 91) from a Fairfield, Conn., nursing home take a last-chance trip to Israel in “Next Year Jerusalem,” an affecting but cursory documentary.
Producer-director David Gaynes, though clearly well-intended, seems so eager to put the happiest — or at least pluckiest — face on the group’s precarious 2011 journey that he excises most of the film’s potential drama, conflict and tension. The result, although involving, is a brief, at times random, routinely shot and edited (by Gaines) video diary.
The film first introduces us to an engaging group of mostly Jewish nursing home residents — of varying degrees of strength and mobility — as they anticipate their journey to the Holy Land. They include the good-humored but severely disabled Selma (she calls herself “the crooked woman”), Belgian-born Regine, 97-year-old jokester Bill and the kindly Helen, an observant Roman Catholic.
How the travelers are chosen, as well as most of the trip’s financial, practical and preparatory considerations, goes underexplored. There’s also no sign of — nor input from — the participating residents’ family members, many of whom must have had serious concerns about this risky undertaking.
Once in Israel, we follow, with no discernible route, the 10-day tour’s various sightseeing stops: the Western Wall, the Masada, the Dead Sea, a Holocaust museum and elsewhere. While the sites are stirring and it’s wonderful to witness the travelers’ collective joy at this dream-like experience, discussion of most practical matters — meals, lodging, medical needs — is again missing.
It’s a privilege getting to know these determined, inspiring seniors, to whatever extent Gaynes allows. But a more deeply revealing, fully candid approach would have made for a more satisfying cinematic excursion.
“Next Year Jerusalem.”
No MPAA rating.
Running time: 1 hour, 10 minutes.
At Laemmle’s Royal Theatre, West Lost Angeles; Laemmle’s Town Center 5, Encino.