THE LAST SERMON
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Jack Baxter
Writer: Jack Baxter
Cast: Abdullaziz Ali Abobker, Acram Said Ahmad, Aeham Ahmad, Iyad Al-Dajani, Susan Alamo, Tony Alamo
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 11/10/20
Opens: December 20, 2020
You can call this film director Jack Baxter’s vanity project if you like, but in any case “The Last Sermon” mirrors the kind of odyssey that will make you cheer on its filmmaker and hope that he will gain the insights he seeks. Baxter is a New York resident who was injured in the terrorist bombing of Mike’s Place in Tel Aviv in April 2003. Three people were killed and many were injured. Baxter walks around now with a cane, partially paralyzed from the suicide bombing which left piece of shrapnel in his body.
Baxter, a slim fellow standing six feet two inches who has a thick mess of curly white hair and a Bernie Sanders accent, wants to know why radicalized Islamists have actually gone against the teachings of the Koran. Just as one of the principal beliefs of Judaism is “treat others as you want to be treated yourself,” in other words we are all equal, the prophet Mohammad preached in the year 632 his last sermon before a multitude of followers. He said, “All mankind is from Adam and Eve. An Arab has no superiority over a non-Arab, nor does a non-Arab have any superiority over an Arab; a white has no superiority over a black, nor does a black have any superiority over a white. Do not do injustice to others, therefore do not do injustice to yourselves.”
Yet the world has suffered through a plethora of attacks by Muslims who apparently did not read or did not agree with the prophet, our own case here in the U.S. highlighted by 9/11, when almost 3,000 Americans were murdered when three separate aircraft aimed themselves at New York’s World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and the Capitol building.
The doc starts in Jerusalem, introducing Jack Baxter and Joshua Faudem outside Mike’s Place. From there the crew traveled to Macedonia, Greece, Serbia, Hungary, Germany the Czech Republic, France, and England. Playing the harmonica to get the attention of refugee communities in countries that have allowed Syrians and Afghans safe harbor, he discusses his quest with Muslims and others whom he meets on the way, most sympathizing with his point of view that Islam is a religion of peace. As one fellow tells him, jihadists are little more than murderers, clothing their actions with the material of religion. That in one sentence should satisfy Baxter, an insight that even I could have told him had he interviewed me. One of the refugee areas had a large sign with a picture of President Trump, a circle and a diagonal line drawn through him as though to call him their enemy—which he is.
The only lip he gets is from a far right presidential candidate in Prague, who insists that there is no way the Islamic culture could find a home in her country, that she does not mind a handful of refugees already there nor does she draw back against doing business with Islamic countries. But it is quite clear that she has no use for them in her Eastern Europe domain. In that she reflects the view of the current far-right president of Hungary, one of several authoritarian rulers that our own president admires.
The film picks up near the conclusion when in London, Baxter, unsuccessfully trying to contact the relatives of one of the Tel Aviv bombers, gets literally up on a soapbox in Hyde Park to denounce terrorism before a handful of people, curious about a New Yorker in suit and tie who expresses a point of view with which nobody there can find fault. Then, in a tense meeting with a politician who appears not to take a strong stand against jihadism, Baxter cries out, “They’re murderers! Murderers!” as he at first steps away from the man as though to protect both of them from a potential fight, then returns a few paces to cry “They’re murderers!”
This doc, in its cinema verité style, is not unlike Jack Baxter’s previous “Blues by the Beach,” about a live music blues bar by the beach in Tel Aviv called Mike’s Place. The aim is to show there is more to the Middle East than seemingly endless war and terrorism. Ironically enough, that is the very place that became the scene of a suicide bombing.
97 minutes. © 2020 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online
Story – B
Acting – B
Technical – B+
Overall – B