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At its heart, Lemon Tree has the simplistic Blue Peter logic of many a
Middle-East Conflict Film. There might be bureaucracies, politics,
religion and culture in the way, but if ordinary people could just talk
to each . . .
The 'ordinary people' are also usually those disenfranchised in a cross-cultural way. In Bridge Over the Wadi, they were children. In Lemon Tree, it is women who pick up the, 'if only we could live together' banner.
Salma is a Palestinian widow. She has lived on the green line border between Israel and the West Bank for decades. She tends a lemon grove. Handed down to her through generations. She barely scrapes an existence from it, but it is her whole world.
On the opposite side, the Israeli Defense Minister moves into a big new house facing her lemon grove. The Israeli security forces declare the proximity of Salma's trees a security threat. They issue orders to uproot them. Salma engages Ziad Daud, a Palestinian lawyer. They go to the Israeli Supreme Court to try to save the trees.
Meanwhile, Mira Navon, the Defense Minister's wife, is trapped in her luxurious new home but pretty miserable. She feels increasingly sympathetic to Salma's plight. Hubby makes public expressions of concern, but says he cannot go against the recommendations of security forces.
As an interim measure, Salma is prevented from entering the grove. The trees start to shrivel. This disparity is highlighted when the Navons throw a lavish party, with 'authentic Egyptian food.' But realise that that the caterer hasn't brought lemons. It seems a minor matter to pick up a few lemons from the adjoining grove . . .
With films like this, it is always tempting to look for bias. Although it was part-funded by the Israeli Film Council that doesn't make it pro-Israeli in this case. It's based on a true stories but (as always) there will be claims that it is too 'pro-Palestinian' or 'pro-Israeli' in the telling. Director Eran Riklis was born in Jerusalem, raised in USA, Canada and Brasil, graduated from film school in England, and now lives in Tel Aviv. He claims his film is, "about solitude as it is reflected in the lives of two women."
One of the film's main contributions is to explain the impossible deadlock and how both sides are pretty powerless, given their institutions, to change much. The Israeli Supreme Court verdict, when it comes, is gut-wrenching. But Palestinian officialdom seems more worried about propriety than the widow's attempts to protect her property. It is all superficially civilised. Lemon Tree initially disappoints me for not being more hard-hitting on political themes. But given how the politics of both sides can be excruciatingly tedious, Riklis has made a wise choice in turning real life political drama into a simple human interest story. In that, it Lemon Tree achieves something of a microcosm for the disputes. But does the film make creative and constructive inroads, or is it simply a pleasant and aesthetic way of not coming to terms?
Most of the comments I hear about how remarkably even-handed it is have come from liberal Israeli commentators. And there is much truth in their view. But a gulf still exists. There are no end of projects (and movies) focussing on peace initiatives between the two sides. Palestinians are often unhappy that such projects ignore the inequalities between them and Israeli Jews. Or act as a conscience-salve for the Israelis. "Existence first, co-existence later", has became a common Palestinian slogan. Lemons are a major crop in the area. They need a lot of water. Just like Salma, banished from her own grove, the Palestinians do not control their own water supply. Just like Salma, in times of crisis, they may lack the means of survival. Palestinians seeing Lemon Tree may agree about its even-handedness. Yet, like Salma, leave a little less sanguine about the value of emotional empathy between the two women. Or so sympathetic to the understanding Mira. Yet in the festering political deadlock, films of such beauty are still better than nothing.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This is a powerful fictional drama which I hope will move many viewers.
The narrative is about people living in both sides of the ever
increasingly fortified frontier between Israel and the occupied
Palestinian territory. Principally a story about a Palestinian woman,
Salma, fighting to save her lemon orchard from the paranoid reality of
Israeli security politics.
This is above all a human drama, about the strength of conviction, and will. The two main characters are women who are imprisoned within the chauvinist world of Jewish Israeli society and Muslim Palestinian - both fight to find their voice, their space and their lives. It's about the barriers that both have to face, about the physical walls being put up between people and the mental & cultural walls... Almost all the characters of the film are imprisoned by the circumstances of their life and history in one way or another.
The movie certainly touched me; it principally communicated to me a feeling that the two women yearn to talk to each other, as well as to their lovers, their families, friends and societies at large. Yet they confront painful difficulties - leaving many things unsaid, which frustrate potential resolutions. To me, it can be seen as a larger metaphor in a cultural/political context.
The script is brilliant in my view, in the way it humanizes the context without appearing embarrassingly heavily politicized. The director, Eran Riklis, did a very good job; in his dreamy and clever use of ideas and symbols almost a national emblem of Jewish Israel connection to the land is here a Palestinian one, powerfully rooted just as much. About two back yards, a small old Palestinian house with an apparently frail lady yet powerfully connected to the land. And a model home of an ambitious and ruthless Israeli defense minister that increasingly builds walls in his mind, with his family, and unfortunately between two people Palestinian and Israeli Jewish. The powerful acting really made me identify with the characters.
Although the film is melancholic, it is replete with wonderful humor, and optimism - essentially how decisions, which can be hugely nationalistic and political, impact ordinary people. Yet even the "little people" can, and do, despite all odds, fight back and affect big decisions.
I give it 9 out of 10, simply because I think Riklis, could have been less linear in unraveling the plot still this is a masterpiece!
This is about the 45-year-old Palestinian widow. She supports herself
by these lemon trees. Then, the Israeli minister of defense becomes her
neighbor, including security problems. The greatest of these problems
are the widow's trees.
But there's also a quite silent love story here, between the woman and her much younger Palestinian lawyer. It's not very physical, but the passion is evident in their eyes.
Movies like this makes more for your interest in this very tragic conflict, than any action performance. To be recommended, if you want to know more about people. And politics.
Heart-rending. A nuanced film about the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
I don't pretend to know a lot about this conflict, but I felt this film had much to say. The characters and the inner conflicts they feel are very well brought out.
There is a lot of strength and feeling in this movie. Neither side is presented as being perfect and having all the 'right' solutions.
The film is slow moving and very thoughtful and I appreciate that when I compare it to the histrionics in most films today. There is also a complexity in the characters and story. The scenes shown of Israel and the Palestinian camps, the check-points, the wall.. are most informative.
Etz Limon (2008) directed by Eran Riklis, was shown in the United
States with the title "Lemon Tree." (Don't confuse the film with a
popular novel that has the same title.) The plot of the story is simple
enough. The Israeli defense minister moves into a home located right
next to a lemon grove owned by a Palestinian woman. Israeli security
agents decide that the grove presents a hazard to the minister and his
wife, and declare that the lemon trees must be destroyed. The
Palestinian woman fights the destruction of her livelihood and her
Although the basic plot of "Lemon Tree" is simple, the movie is complex. There are fascinating interactions between the woman--Salma Zidane, played by the incomparable Hiam Abbass--and her lawyer and her children. The defense minister has a edgy relationship with his wife. (His wife is basically a fair and caring woman, and isn't supportive of the grove's destruction, but she also likes being married to a powerful, charismatic public figure.) The defense minister is obviously very close to a beautiful young aide, and the movie suggests that they're having an affair.
Although the film is clearly sympathetic to the Palestinian cause, all of the Palestinians aren't portrayed as perfect individuals. One local Palestinian leader doesn't suggest any course of action for Salma, but warns her not to accept compensation from the Israelis. Refusal to accept compensation probably makes sense as a political strategy. However, without compensation, what options are open to a widow whose sole livelihood is taken from her?
To me, the saddest part of the movie was the failure of Salma and the minister's wife Mira (Rona Lipaz-Michael) to ever meet face to face. On several occasions in the film they almost meet, but the meeting never actually takes place. Symbolically, that failure to communicate on a personal level represents the Israeli-Palestinian dilemma. They are figuratively and literally unable to speak to each other, and therefore they can never move beyond stereotypes and hostility.
We saw this film at the excellent Rochester Jewish Film Festival. However, it would work well on the small screen. It's an extraordinary film, and definitely worth seeking out.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
With and outstanding theme that follows the rivalry between ancient
cultures, like in The Band's Visit, only this time with lesser
romanticism, Lemon Tree is filled with charm and firm posture by both
female leading characters and brings politics and female castration
into a great clash of emotions with tied-up fists.
The struggle is against urban development that even in the least expected areas of the world tends to eliminate memories of the individual and their experiences. The swifting of values comes pompously, arrogantly, and city like, taking away the taste of fresh lemons in place of comfortable homes and their obvious (as consequence) invasions of power and money, status and politics.
The abrupt invasions are made here by Israel's National Security man and his beautiful and lonely wife. With subtlety the film depicts the ups and downs of a politician's wife contrasting her castrations with the lemon trees owner. Subploting this idea comes the lemon tree's lawyer who seems to be the only benefited in the end with all his self cultural sexual-harassments added by the exposures of the facts by the media, granting him an elevated change of status.
Don't get fooled by the sweet and lovable soundtrack in the initial scenes, and although this film is lighter than most female dramas still respects reality instead of appealing towards tear-jerking melodramatic confrontations, and that is what makes this a true cinematic experience.
A very important film and one the best of 2008 so far.
This movie is available here since April 23rd, people are queuing to
see it and nevertheless, nobody shows up with a comment. LA VISITE DE
LA FANFARE, also an Israeli film deserving to be called "a shake-hands
tentative with a neighbor country" was nice, but the characters did not
look Egyptian to me (and I've seen quite a lot of Egyptians in my
life).LEMON TREE is perhaps a true story, although I don't believe it.
It is however one of the most valuable attempts to show the unsolvable
problem existing between two nations who have been fighting for more
than 60 years to find a solution of cohabitation. The situation: an
Israeli prominent figure (Minister of Defense, not less) has built
himself a house next to a field of lemon trees owned by a Palestinian
widow. The Army (I hate the word Tsahal, doesn't sound congenial to me)
has no other solution than to erase the whole field, otherwise a
Kamikaze fighter may find a base for throwing dangerous warfare. The
case is brought to the Supreme Court of Israel, which comes to a
solution supposed to satisfy everybody and constitute a large step
towards a better understanding. Go and see this movie, and tell me if
is not another rendition of the famous King Solomon judgement. You won't regret it, because the movie is excellent. I'll tell you no more. Harry Carasso, Paris, France
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Lemon Tree is something of an enigma
Beautiful to behold. The actresses bring to mind those stylish and glamorous creatures that used to inhabit the French New Wave films such as those of Claude Chabrol. The men are civilised, sophisticated, capable of turning heads and touching minds. Appealing characters with flaws as well as virtues
The ideas being explored are universal justice and mercy for widows, the rights of citizens to be able to pursue their lives in peace and security.
Both sides of the argument are given an articulate and arresting airing.
It is impossible not to sympathise with Hiam Abbass' portrayal of Salma, the poor but self reliant widow who merely wishes to continue working the small family orchard her father left to her.
And yet the rather soulless security officials are proved to be correct in their assessment of the site as a security risk. Bullets are fired from the orchard at high ranking government officials and ministers who attend as guests at the house warming party.
The culmination of the film, in which the erection of the security wall between the orchard and the Defence Minister's house alleviates the problem seems to be an admission of defeat. All the ingenuity, urbane civility and intelligence of Israeli culture has been found wanting.
I assume Rona Lipaz-Michael, who has portrayed with admirable understatement not only an awareness of the widow's plight but also the emptiness of her once vibrant but now seemingly loveless marriage to Israel Navon, the Defence Minister, is walking out on him in the last few scenes of the film. It brings to mind the culmination of Lee Tamahori's film, "Mulholland Falls" in which Melanie Griffith pronounces her judgment on not just the actions but also the moral values of her well meaning but flawed police detective husband.
That got me thinking about something I read in an Automobile Association World Travel Guide to Israel back in 1998. Perhaps not such a prestigious reference for matters of importance, but it stated that the Jewish National Fund owns 92% of Israel and (more surprisingly) that almost all of Israel had been purchased from the original owners before the setting up of the state of Israel in 1948.
Obviously the 1967 War changed the borders, but I wonder why rich and not so rich Jews around the world could not launch another fund to seek to buy, lease or set up exploratory avenues that would allow people of good will to investigate a means of sharing the land in a more equitable manner than seems to be the case depicted in this film.
The persistent image of that security wall throughout the film brings to mind a passage in Isaiah 54:2-3 ... "Enlarge the place of your tent, stretch your tent curtains wide, do not hold back; lengthen your cords, strengthen your stakes. For you will spread out to the right and to the left; your descendants will dispossess nations and settle in their desolate cities.
But that comes from post apocalyptic passages of Isaiah. It concerns that obsession of the biblical prophets, "post-Day of the Lord", Israel and this film deals with Israel here and now. Readers of Israel's prophetic tradition would probably have to concede that Malachi's apocalyptic prophecies seem to mark the transitional phase.
The direction and scripting are exemplary, the performances engrossing and compelling. And yet the sum total of all the considerable talents invested in this film seems to amount to something less than a satisfying experience.
Director and joint writer Eran Riklis has deftly sidestepped the resort to the heavy handed caricature of films such as Ra'anan Alexandrowicz' "James' Journey to Jerusalem" (Massa'ot James Be'eretz Hakodesh) and the dour bleakness of Ronit and Shlomi Elkaberz' reworking of the prophetic writing of Hosea in their film, "Ve'Lakhta Lehe Isha" (To Take a Wife)
Maybe it is like the Lemon Tree of the title. Pretty, sweetly scented flowers but bearing fruit too sour to eat.
Maybe that is the problem. The implications of what is being portrayed up on the screen are too bitter to contemplate for long. They are best left behind in the cinema. And the packaging of the product is so well contrived that the viewer can do that by uttering a few sanctimonious sentiments about the difficulty of the situation facing Israelis and Palestinians and leaving it all up there on the screen.
Yes I know a lemon isn't grey, but yellow (or green, if it ain't ripe
yet), but I'm talking about the grey area this movie does try to shine
a light upon, with more than a light human touch coming with it. You
get both sides of a dilemma, that concerns the aforementioned (see
English title) lemon tree(s).
The director and the stars where at the screening I watched. There were many questions, one concerned the message of the movie. Interestingly enough the director himself is a Jew. But he still sees the craziness of the Gaza/border to other countries. And he also had an "All-Star" cast, that shows that there must not be any hate between the races. And the movie itself raises a few questions, about a few hot topics. It's a movie worth watching, not only for those that are afflicted by the themes of the movie, but also for everyone else!
Very Realistic or close to Reality with Emphasis on People involved. Salma played by Hiam Abbass, a widow who lives on her dead Fathers Lemon Grove. An Israeli Defence Minister comes to live opposite Grove. Based on real story with Minister Shaul Mofaz. This causes a security problem. Showing "Fence" which is mostly a Wall. The Ministers Wife identifies with Salma. This is very much like Israel 2008. Similar to "Syrian Bride" Riklis set's up the Realistic Story and how it effects on People caught in to the situation. Hiam is Marvelous and other actors in the cast too. 9 out of 10 Sam's Rating. An enjoyable DocuDrama.
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