How does one deal with the inevitable end of his or her life? Does one decide to let life pass them by for fear of going a bit too soon or in a manner that may seem a little less than fitting, or does one take risks, and as this new documentary and its director puts it, “choose life in spite of death.” Hitting the proverbial “back nine” of one’s life is a devastating concept for many people, and yet, for those who decide to take this on with a focused mind and a full heart, it can be just another chapter in a life fully lived.
That’s the idea behind the new, brisk independent documentary Next Year Jerusalem. Director David Gaynes’ third feature length film, this time taking a look at a collection of elderly people Gaynes knows himself all too well. Introducing us to a group of residents at the Jewish Home For The Elderly out of Fairfield, CT (the same place Gaynes’ first short documentary was based out of), the film finds these men and women, and those who try and help take care of them, as they get set to plan a journey fitting of these truly special people. A ten-day trip to Israel is the goal here, and this wonderfully charming and beautifully intimate documentary looks at not only the planning that goes into one of these trips, but the impact that it has on these men and woman mentally, emotionally, physically and most importantly spiritually.
As far as documentaries go, aesthetically, the film isn’t groundbreaking. The photography here is rather superb, and Gaynes’ camera gets access to some truly moving moments. Much more than a standard talking heads documentary, the film feels like the best type of travelogue piece, a film that is both beautifully crafted around some gorgeous settings, and yet deftly knowing of what we want as viewers narratively. Each person here has a fully realized character and are important to the overall narrative, be it any one of the residents or a nurse that is as close to them as their very own blood. Far from forgettable, the film is a charming and emotionally resonant road trip documentary that is far greater and more moving than the 72 minute run time would have one imagine.
However, it’s the concept behind this entire picture that is arguably the most rewarding. As a person myself with a handful of family members in the very last stages of their lives, this is a glowing meditation on the power of the human spirit if one chooses to face the worst of all villains, death, with a full heart. Full of humor and true, palpable vitality, the film is a shockingly powerful documentary that may not be widely seen during its theatrical run, but is one that makes for more than a perfect rainy day view on VOD. Warm and enchanting, Gaynes’ picture is a powerful and real piece of non-fiction cinema that hints at the raw power of the human spirit. Admittedly brief and almost too briskly paced, the film may not pack an emotional punch that will make it all that talked about, but it’s yet another unsung documentary gem from what is more and more becoming the genre’s golden age.