Lemon Tree

"Weak"

Lemon Tree Review


Israeli director Eran Riklis' latest feature, Lemon Tree, depicts the legal battle waged between a poor lemon farmer living on the Green Line between the West Bank and Israel and her neighbor, the Israeli Defense Minister, whose security detail wants to uproot all her trees to ensure that no terrorists will use the orchard as cover for an attack. It is part of a new echelon of films that treat the temperamental ground where Israeli-Palestinian politics lays with kid gloves and seems not to have the faintest idea of how to properly approach the subject. At the very least, that puts it in line with a great number of citizens and politicians worldwide.

At the center of the film are two strong females, played by two strong actresses. Salma, the woman who owns the lemon orchard which she inherited from her late father, is played by Hiam Abbass, the lovely, steely-eyed Israeli-born actress from both Riklis' last film, the superior The Syrian Bride, and last year's The Visitor. The other is played by Rona Lipaz-Michael, a radiant and talented newcomer, who portrays Mira, the wife of the Defense Minister. Salma lost her husband some time ago to a weak heart while Mira is losing her husband to his job, his ego, and a pert secretary. The man who has come into Salma's life is a handsome young lawyer named Zidane; the man who comes into Mira's is a hard-nosed secret service agent.

Zidane, who is played by the excellent Ali Suliman, is bringing Salma's case in front of the Israeli Supreme Court in hopes of saving her orchard. A romance begins but doesn't go far, partly due to Zidane having a wife and daughter waiting for him in Russia, not to mention his affair with a high-ranking official's daughter. Perhaps the most consistent facet of Riklis' film is how fem-centric it is. The director often evokes the spirit of great men, but most of those who make it onscreen are seen as weak-willed, outdated or, to be quite frank, scumbags.

Great films can be made that are set in tumultuous times or during tumultuous events without directly confronting either (see Duplicity) but Lemon Tree isn't one of these films. For one, it is unabashedly pro-Palestine and even its most sincere Israeli character (Mira) is seen as far inferior to Salma and the lovable old man who works her farm and argues "Trees are like people" to the court. The name Hezbollah is invoked a few times but for what purpose besides setting up a narrative threat? Riklis has adorned his take on Erin Brockovich with the threads and settings of the Israel/Palestine conflict but largely disregards the volatile emotions and the sectarian fury that goes along with it.

A little over halfway through the film, Mira's husband sings with a pretty lady about how things will be okay as long as we all. The lemon orchard is at once Mira's troubled marriage, Salma's heritage, Palestinian tradition, and Zidane's expatriate past, but any complexity given to these conflicts comes to a conclusion far too easily and predictably to be taken seriously. The results are blithely impersonal, formulaic, and without flavor, and even if you don't enjoy the taste of the titular citrus, it's far preferable.

Aka Etz Limon.

Lemon tree, very pretty.



Facts and Figures

Run time: 106 mins

In Theaters: Thursday 27th March 2008

Box Office USA: $0.5M

Distributed by: IFC

Production compaines: Eran Riklis Productions Ltd.

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 2 / 5

Rotten Tomatoes: 92%
Fresh: 61 Rotten: 5

IMDB: 7.3 / 10

Cast & Crew

Director: Eran Riklis

Producer: Eran Riklis

Starring: Hiam Abbass as Selma Zidane, Tarik Kopty as Abu Hussam, Ali Suliman as Ziad Daud, Doron Tavory as Verteidigungsminister, Rona Lipaz-Michael as Frau des Verteidigungsministers

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