What is more relevant today than a story of memory and trauma set in Israel and Palestine? In filmmaker Muayad Alayan’s A House in Jerusalem, we enter a world of suffering, loss, and the need for catharsis – lensed entirely through the eyes of an innocent young girl.
Rebecca (Miley Locke) is a Jewish-British who recently moved to Jerusalem with her widowed father Michael (Johnny Harris). Yet to get over the grief of losing her mother, she has a peculiar encounter in her large residence’s yard. It is the spirit of a young girl named Rasha (Sheherazade Makhoul Farrell) who is not visible to her perplexed father or anyone else. Rebecca and Rasha share an unlikely friendship – a development that aggravates the woes of the former’s already unnerved father.
Alayan’s screenplay, although not explicitly political, cleverly highlights the need for Israel and Palestine to consider human traumas. A House in Jerusalem allows the protagonist to find larger meanings in Rebecca’s sightings through which she finds all the answers herself. The eventual revelation centered around the making of a traditional doll is a major emotional turnaround that proceeds to a tear-jerking finale.
A House in Jerusalem, in less proficient hands, would have dived into a pool of tasteless melodrama. However, Alayan’s competent material on paper gives enough room for its people to grieve and attain catharsis. The film is also made extra-effective by Alex Simu’s original soundtrack and Simone Weber’s sound design – both of which get the DNA of the genre just right. DOP Sebastian Bock captures the intimate, allegorical nature of the story with several powerful close-ups.
Leading actor Miley Locke lives her part as Rebecca and not once does she go overboard or come across as needy and tiresome. Sheherazade Makhoul Farrell, while projecting spook with her eerily still face, allows us to feel Rasha up and close. Essaying the part of the father, Johnny Harris makes Michael’s pining believable even though film the isn’t exactly about him. Souad Faress, who appears towards the finale, is exceptional – particularly as she breaks down upon briefly reliving her childhood.
Screened at the 54th International Film Festival of India, Goa, Muayad Alayan’s film is a fine interplay between grief and memory woven around a sensitive thread of politics. The story overflows with a child’s instinctive goodness but not without making a sublime statement. No, A House in Jerusalem is not toxic positive but it raises an alarming question around the Israel-Palestine conflict: Will time undo the trauma endured by the young and impressionable in both nations?