FILM: 7 Km from Jerusalem
The 'Monte Linas' Library System and the Library of the Institute of Religious Sciences of San Gavino Monreale propose the screening of the 2007 film '7 km from Jerusalem', directed by Claudio Malaponti. The film narrates the journey to the Holy Land undertaken by a publicist (Luca Ward) and his mystical encounter with Jesus Christ (Alessandro Etrusco). The film is based on the novel of the same name by Pino Farinotti and is a discussion on the issues concerning everyday life and the way we understand the existence of God today.
Alessandro Forte, 43 years old, an advertising man, is in deep crisis. He has lost his job, he is not well, his wife has abandoned him, taking their daughter with her. For some indecipherable reason he finds himself walking on the road from Jerusalem to the sea. At 7 km, not far from Emmaus, he is met by a man wearing a tunic and sandals who tells him he is Jesus. Alexander thinks he is a street performer and tries to push him away. But the man insists, calls him by name, tells him that he "summoned" him and shows that he knows a lot about him. Alexander, impressed but also afraid, asks for a demonstration of his divinity. Alexander has many questions to ask and the other has answers to give. And they are the questions and answers that billions of people would have wanted to ask and hear.
Commentary on the film by Don Antonio Pinna, co-director of the Institute of Religious Sciences of San Gavino Monreale, whom we warmly thank for his availability:
Needless to say, this is not a review. The track of the film is easily available on all specialised online sites. Including that of the National Film Evaluation Commission of the Italian Bishops' Conference (cnvf.it). What surprises me, especially given the library context in which this 'afterword' was born, is to see how even the 'pastoral' site of the Italian bishops' trustees experts remains a prisoner of a literary genre: it scans all the obligatory points of a film review (info, plot without ending, aesthetic judgement on the various components of the film, concluding evaluation), but all said in formulated and maximally generic phrases.
I quote in full the 'pastoral evaluation' of the above-mentioned centre:
"Director Malaponti says: "The film intends to be a reasoning on the condition of western man (...) starting from a secular premise, it crosses Catholic-Christian religion in an attempt at attention, a hope towards a destiny that must be considered and recomposed". The intentions, although already seen and heard in many circumstances, are therefore valid and encouraging. And it is true that the, so to speak, descriptive part (i.e. the cases recounted) has undoubted connections with reality. What is lacking, in the end, is the ability to sustain the script under a dramaturgical-existential profile. Almost always, the rhythm remains below that level of vivacity needed to keep the attention, and the direction does not go beyond a didactic illustration of the facts, which does not get to the heart of the problems and reflections. In short, one has to work hard to get out the message addressed to a 'new' worldview, to receive suffering and palpitation often suffocated by images that are all too elementary. From a pastoral point of view, therefore, the film is to be evaluated as acceptable and on the whole simple. USE: the film can be used in ordinary programming and on other occasions, bearing in mind the general modesty of the packaging.
That is all. I challenge anyone to find something concretely pastorally useful in it.
My intention is certainly not to say with ill-concealed sense of superiority that I have struggled to get out but not "the message aimed at a 'new' worldview". It is enough for me to highlight a few concrete scenes, without playing the dogmatic film reviewer. I start with two quotes.
- Without fear of taking the suspense away, here is the last scene of the film: from a veranda left open, a stray dog climbs onto the bed in every way absolutely similar to the little dog Viola of whom the film told the Faced with her parents' claims that it cannot be the same Viola, the little girl is determined: 'Yes, she is dead. But she has returned'.
- The star publicist reminds one of his client of the reasons with which, during a private dialogue, he had justified his decision to remain faithful to his now paralysed wife:
"'I remember the words you said to me. That it was not just about feelings, but about religion." He shook his head and smiled.
"The word was conviction, not religion".
"And what changes?"
"A lot, or maybe nothing. Anyway, I am an atheist."
These two quotes seemed appropriate to highlight a common thread, some would say 'thesis', of the film and, before that, of the novel of the same name from which the film is based. For cinephiles, the name of the novel's author, Pino Farinotti, is certainly well known: he is, in fact, the author of one of the first film dictionaries, "Il Farinotti", as well as of a text(Dal libro al film, 2020) that collects the numerous articles he has published on the relationship between literature and cinema. It is not my intention to talk about the film in its relationship to the book; however, knowing that the film's outline comes from a profound connoisseur of cinematography in general, may help to frame both the importance of dialogue in the film and the fact that the protagonist is an advertising man skilled in 'communication'.
The first choice is therefore to place the figure of an advertiser as the protagonist. This gives the opportunity, mentioned several times in the dialogues, to reflect on authenticity in communication. An advertiser is in charge of finding the best way to sell, he has no duty to believe in the advertised product,
much less to buy it or consume it. And yet, little by little, especially with the episode of the fugitive graffiti artist Vilio (not shown in the film), it seems that a new authenticity penetrates the 'nonconfessional' profession of the publicist, making (perhaps?) the two terms 'religion' and 'conviction' homonymous.
The second choice was to place alongside the publicist in search of authenticity, and at a time when his life had reached a moment of total crisis, the religious figure of Jesus: this character, 'the Jesus', who appears and disappears while in the Holy Land, as he had already done by recalling the Scriptures to the two disciples of Emmaus (hence the title), reminds him step by step of the main moments of his past and obliges him to discover the meaning of each of these moments, or, perhaps better, the function in the whole of his life.
Among the events, those susceptible to different interpretations are favoured, and not by chance. I recall only three.
- Being run over by a cement mixer and getting up unharmed from the asphalt, it is an incredible accident, but it happened to him. Is it just by chance that (at least in the film, not in the novel), on that occasion he is given back an envelope that is not his containing a ticket he has already paid for to the Holy Land?
- A woman mugged of her handbag, falls to the ground, hitting her head on the pavement. Clearly her shoulders, neck and head are out of alignment, and a doctor rushing in among the other onlookers pronounces her dead. However, the spontaneous gestures of the star publicist, contravening the doctor's repeated assurances that he knows when a person is dead, awaken the woman who gets up as if nothing has happened. Never seen such a thing, says the Incredible, again, but happened.
- A girl with a complicated history is about to lose her baby who, in her intrauterine movements, has knotted the umbilical cord. Impossible that in her natural movements the knot could untie. Incredible, yet
Things happen, it is often repeated in the film. How to understand its meaning? Will the meaning be the same for everyone? Perhaps not, says 'the Jesus' towards the end of the film: 'As always, some will believe you, others will not'.
Perhaps then the right answer, according to the novel and the film, is that it is true what, authentically, transforms your life.
Significant in this regard is the moment when the friar hitchhikes on the road to Emmaus. He gets into the jeep and greets "The Lord be with you". But as he sees the passenger beside the driver in the guise of a Jesus out of a Renaissance painting, he stops the car and gets out. 'You scared him off,' says the publican addressing the 'Jesus'.
P.S.1 Please note that the landscape of the film, shot in Syria, has nothing to do with the places mentioned. Obviously, it is not a 'historical' film. Neither can it be called a science fiction novel. Poetry? Only in some happier moments. Fairy tale, then? Why not? We more easily give a fable a chance to catch us off guard. Because then reality is what we happen to experience and understand in all 'conviction'. Generally, afterwards. The meaning of a tale, as of a life, is only understood at the end. But, precisely, the question of the end is the only one that remains unanswered, in the film as in the story.
On other questions typical of everyday religious life, 'the Jesus' of the film allows himself to joke:
- "Be patient, there is one last thing."
"...the end of the world, the weeping madonnas, the blood of San Gennaro, the stigmata... stuff like that... knowing that I have spoken to you everyone will want to know your revelations. What do I say?"
"Say you didn't ask me."
Here is something that the bishops' general and dogmatic pastoral evaluation forgot to mention: that often the most frequently asked questions are the useless ones, and the most important ones disregarded.
P. S.2 Encouraged by the success of the novel, which has been translated into several languages (but for the Paoline publishing house to produce translations of their novels is certainly not a problem), as well as convinced by positive opinions from ecclesiastical personalities (Ratzinger, Ravasi, Alberoni are mentioned), the publishing house commissioned a kind of sequel" with some "external" suggestions, which the author says also became "internal" after a couple he met by chance confided in him that they had overcome their grief over the death of their child by reading "7 km from Jerusalem". The new novel is titled 'And the angel departed from her'.
This time, a lady named Maria (but is she the one?) comes to the aid of a couple in difficulty, especially because of a tumour that has struck their eight-year-old son. If the purpose of the two novels was to suggest discovering an 'other' possibility of meaning in everyday events, in the second novel the scenes are much more of normal life, without those 'miraculous' interventions of the first novel, unfortunately sometimes rendered almost showbiz in the film (see the apparition of the dead mother, which, it is true, does not ultimately satisfy the protagonist who had asked for her to be dead, and which in the novel 'Jesus' finds it very difficult to grant and indeed does not grant in the immediate future, as happens in the film).
P.S.3 Finally, it remains somewhat surprising how Catholic personalities such as Ratzinger or Ravasi only needed a text open to an 'other' possibility of meaning, beyond pure rationalism, to express practically unconditional support for the novel (cf. Ravasi, Domenicale del Sole-24 Ore, 27 March 2005), completely glossing over the rather 'relativistic' aspects involved in wanting to equate 'conviction' and 'religion'. An aspect, however, completely absent from the second novel.
Don Antonio Pinna
Interview with the director
Watch the full film onYoutube
The film is based on the novel of the same name by Pino Farinotti.
It was recognised as a film of national cultural interest and received support from the Ministry of Cultural Heritage and Activities.
In one scene, Jesus drinks Coca Cola, which is considered a symbol of the contemporary age: Coca Cola Italy initially asked for the scene to be cut, but then retraced its steps and agreed to use the famous brand in the film.
Part of the filming took place in Syria, in locations hitherto off-limits to film crews such as the airport and where no Westerners had shot.
Those interested in borrowing the DVD can request it from the Library of the Institute of Religious Sciences in San Gavino Monreale, Via Diana n. 11 (tel. 0709339017)
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