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Lemon Tree

1 rating: 2.0
A movie directed by Eran Riklis

Director Eran Riklis makes his home in Tel Aviv, but his films tend to occupy the borders between nations. Co-written with Suha Arraf,Lemon Treeserves as a companion to their previous collaboration,The Syrian Bride. Hiam Abbass fromThe Visitorreturns … see full wiki

Tags: Movie
Director: Eran Riklis
1 review about Lemon Tree

Thoughtful, well-acted slice of Israeli/Palestinian life

  • Dec 22, 2009
THE LEMON TREE is a quiet, gentle film that tries to tackle a big subject in a fairly small manner. This Israeli film (in fact, it was co-funded by the Israeli film council) wants to illustrate the frustrating tensions between Israelis and Palestinians by having one fairly personal event stand-in for the entire conflict. Or at least, that's how audiences seem to want to see it. I choose to look at it as one example of how misunderstanding can be turned into stubborn intransigence by those cultural & political differences. No film can distill something as long-standing and complex as these issues into one story...but one film can certainly shed light.

Just barely on the Palestinian side of the West Bank, Salma Zidane (Hiam Abbass) leads a lonely, simple life trying to squeeze a living (pun intended, sorry) out of her small lemon orchard. It's hard work, and other than yielding very tasty lemonade, Salma gets little from her labors. However, these trees were planted by her father, and they are all her family really has connecting it to a past, to give a sense of place & pride. Salma's husband has died many years ago and her grown children are distant from her (her son lives in Washington DC and works as a busboy). She is lonely, but seems more or less at peace with her life and doesn't expect much from it.

One day, just on the Israeli side of the fence, the new Israeli Defense Minister decides to move in with his glamorous wife. One suspects that he has chosen this remote location at least in part to be freer to travel the country away from his wife, because he seems to have a bit of a wandering eye. No doubt, he also felt this location would make some sort of positive political statement. His security forces decide, however, that the neighboring lemon grove would make a good spot for terrorists to hide in and lob grenades without ever being spotted by the guards in the newly installed tower than hovers over Salma's land.

So Salma receives a letter, telling her that she'll be compensated for the fact that all her trees are about to be uprooted. Salma is appalled at the thought of losing her only source of income and her family's pride. So she actually finds a Palestinian attorney willing to take her case.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the fence, the Defense Minister's wife Mira takes an interest in the Lemon trees. She sees from her window the poor Palestinian woman who clings to her dignity, and seems to find herself wanting in comparison. As the case gains national notoriety, Mira finds herself torn in her loyalties.

I won't reveal more of the plot, because there isn't all that much of it. This is a four person story, and it delicately reveals shadings of character and feeling that eventually make us feel great sympathy for almost everyone. The Israeli minister is something of a cardboard character, but Mira, Salma and her attorney Ziad are all very flesh-and-blood people. Palestinian society precludes strong emotions from Salma, but the graceful Hiam Abbass (known to US audiences for THE VISITOR) gives us a smoldering performance hidden beneath the very placid demeanor. She says very little, yet her work is so open that we can virtually read her every thought. We take her journey very personally.

Very delicate relationships form, including a strange, wordless one between Mira and Salma and a surprisingly vibrant one between lawyer & client. While the movie follows an overall predictable David vs. Goliath track...the nuances of the journey are what make THE LEMON TREE a pleasure.

There are moments of humor (the best around a photo of Salma's husband) and there are occasional bursts of raw, unfettered emotion. All the actors do well, and while the movie is slow paced, it never drags.

My complaints are minor. The cinematography is mundane. I would have expected the lemon trees themselves to serve as more powerful symbols or to at least be filmed gorgeously, but both efforts fall flat. And just for English-speaking audiences, the subtitles provided are the most annoying kind. They are white and sometimes lost against white shirts. Why can't they be the usual yellow and placed at the bottom of the screen? I missed several lines of dialogue.

In the end, the film shows the politics in Israel as being too skewed towards keeping the military happy and less interested in the human side of the Palestinian issues. It also shows Palestinian patriarchy as contributing to the lack of progress of its people. Both sides show both good and bad. It's an even-handed film, and even though Israeli government funded, I'd say that the artists behind the movie were allowed a fairly free hand politically. I was glad to see that.

The film is unrated, but I believe would be a PG. There's no violence, no sex and if memory serves, little bad language. I would think, though, that kids would be bored. However, as an introduction to the concept of the age-old tensions in Israel, THE LEMON TREE might serve well.

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