In the allegorical "James' Journey to Jerusalem," a deeply religious young man, filled with idealism and hope, leaves his village in Africa to embark on a pilgrimage to the Holy City. There he hopes to glean some spiritual inspiration before returning home to start life as a pastor. However, things do not quite work out for James the way he envisions them. Immediately upon his arrival in Israel and before he can even make it to the famed city, he is unjustly thrown into jail, then "sold" into a kind of paid slavery to the business man who ponies up his bail. James is forced to live in a kind of community barracks with other young men in his situation and is sent around town to do cleaning, gardening and an assortment of other odd jobs. As James toils at his labors and interacts with both his "superiors" and peers, he learns a great deal about life in a land where the weak are taken advantage of by the strong and where friendly words and acts of seeming kindness are doled out with an air of class-conscious racism and condescension.
This is a fascinating film in many ways, for it introduces us to a milieu filled with unfamiliar situations and faces. James is, obviously, a sincere and devout individual whose innocence and naivete endear us to him, even when it is those very qualities that make it difficult for him to exist and function in a world far more crassly commercial and uncaringly cynical than the one he expects to find. Yet, at the same time, James has a strength of spirit and a resourcefulness that allow him to triumph, even if only temporarily, over the adversities that befall him. However, even the saintly James, who keeps a firm grasp on his principles early on, eventually learns that one sometimes has to violate a moral code or two to get ahead in life. In many ways, this is like a modern "Pilgrim's Progress" or "Young Goodman Brown," with the noble protagonist leaving the safety and familiarity of his home to venture forth into a world filled with evils and temptations - but always with the hope of reaching that famed "City on a Hill" at the end.
However, there is one rather disturbing aspect to the film, and that is that, almost without exception, all the Israelis whom James encounters are greedy, grasping exploiters who see James and all of his compatriots as little more than chattel to do their work for them, talking down to and taking advantage of them every chance they get. Even his boss` elderly father, with whom James establishes a certain precarious "friendship," is really just a bitter, angry racist, hardly deserving of James' loyalty and trust. But to be fair, it isn't just the Jewish Israelis - even the black minister of the church that James attends ends up exploiting him. Since the film originates from Israel, it would be a bit difficult to accuse it of being anti-Semitic, and perhaps this film is that country's attempt to come to terms with a decidedly negative aspect of the nation's people and character - equivalent to the many Hollywood films made about racism, discrimination and exploitation in the United States of America.
Whatever the motivation, "James' Journey to Jerusalem" is a moving film about xenophobia, the class struggle and the fragility of hopes and dreams. The ironic final image brings that last theme home in a heartbreaking way. For James does finally reach his destination, but not quite in the way he intended.