Review: The Lemon Tree

By Gerald Aaron, December 11, 2008
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(PG)

Eran Riklis’s Jewish Film Festival hit gets a well-deserved release — the second Israeli film after Waltz With Bashir to do so in the past few weeks.

His compelling Hebrew-language drama takes off when Israeli Defence Minister Navon (Doron Tavory) moves into his new house on the Green Line between Israel and the West Bank. The house overlooks a lemon grove owned by Palestinian widow Salma (Hiam Abbass), which the security forces decide could harbour potential attackers and must be cut down.

Salma’s reaction is both positive and unexpected. Using the services of young Palestinian lawyer Ziad Daud (Ali Suliman), she goes all the way to the Israeli Supreme Court in a bid to save her trees. In the process, she bonds with Navon’s unhappy, neglected wife, Mira (Rona Lipaz-Michael).

The fact-based movie succeeds on two levels. First, it examines a specific incident that illuminates current Israeli-Palestinian relations without being melodramatic or preachy.

Impressively, too, the David and Goliath storyline of one person going up against the massive authority of the state serves to make the message powerfully universal.

Warmth infuses the drama, but Riklis never sinks to sentimentality. He has a sharp eye for character too and elicits fine performances, notably by Abbass. The result is that what could so easily have been a hackneyed theme of right against might (an Israeli version of Mr Smith Goes to Washington) emerges as a notable film in its own right.

    Last updated: 2:58pm, February 18 2011