Zaytoun Movie Review
Lively characters and resonant interaction make this film enjoyably watchable even though it's impossible to believe anything that happens. The problem is that the filmmakers are trying to explore a thorny situation using a heartwarming story, which makes every step of the way feel badly contrived. And for such a hot-potato topic, the script isn't nearly as subtle as it should be. But at least the cast is likeable.
It's set in 1982 Beirut, where war is raging with Israel. In a refugee camp, Palestinian teen Fahed (El Akal) refuses to obey the rules, skipping both school and military training to run around the bombed-out city with his friends. But the violence is getting closer to home, and when his father and best pal are killed, Fahed decides to travel back to his family home in Palestine to plant his late mother's potted olive tree. To do this, he teams up with downed Israeli pilot Yoni (Dorff), springing him from capture and heading out on a dangerous road trip south.
There are several obvious plot elements that create issues along the way. Fahed improbably refuses to go anywhere without the olive tree or his football (his friends call him Zico after the Brazilian player), while Yoni is trying to get home to his pregnant wife (cue his paternal instincts). So they bond as they face violent militias, scary checkpoints and unexpected minefields - both the literal and figurative ones. But since the script is so carefully constructed, nothing is a surprise, including their growing friendship and each danger they face along the way.
The film looks great, with a loose, energetic tone and an engaging sense of childish adventure that kind of undermines the threat of death and destruction in each situation. It's as if the filmmakers are trying to make everything more palatable for both young and foreign audiences while nudging viewers over to Israel's side of the ongoing conflict. As a result, neither Dorff nor El Akal are able to develop their character below the surface. At east El Akal is amusingly hyperactive; Dorff is so stony and serious that we never really warm to him. As this odd couple travels from one set-piece to another, we enjoy the attempt to portray the situation in a new way, but we still feel like we're being manipulated.
Cast & Crew
Director : Eran Riklis
Producer : Frederick A. Ritzenberg, Gareth Unwin
Screenwriter : Nader Rizq
Starring : Stephen Dorff, Abdallah El Akal, Alice Taglioni, Tarik Kopty, Mira Awad, Adham Abu Aqel, Ashraf Farah, Morad Hassan