A fable of Israelis, Palestinians

Tarik Kopty (left) and Hiam Abbass in "Lemon Tree," a fable of how borders drawn to keep citizens safe often have the opposite effect.
Tarik Kopty (left) and Hiam Abbass in "Lemon Tree," a fable of how borders drawn to keep citizens safe often have the opposite effect.
Posted: May 01, 2009

For all the ideological differences between Israelis and Palestinians, there is a remarkable similarity in their national cinemas, where boundaries, borders, and checkpoints loom large, literally and metaphorically. Chain-link fences and Jersey barricades are to Israeli and Palestinian movies what cherry blossoms and tea ceremonies are to the Japanese.

Israeli filmmaker Eran Riklis' Lemon Tree is a lively deadpan comedy which, like his prior film The Syrian Bride, satirizes Israel's bureaucrats while remaining sympathetic to citizens who live within and adjacent to Israel's disputed borders.

Also like Syrian Bride, it is cowritten by Suha Arraf, a Palestinian, and is a fable of how borders drawn to keep citizens safe often have the opposite effect.

Lemon Tree is about two women, a citrus grove, and men worried that a fragrant stand of fruit trees might provide cover for terrorists. Dig a little deeper, and it is also about patriarchal men on both sides of the West Bank/Israel "green line" who, in order to flex political muscle, would uproot women and trees. Though told with fairy-tale simplicity, the film is based on actual events.

Salma Zidane (the strikingly lovely Hiam Abbass of The Visitor and Syrian Bride) is a Palestinian widow who tends the grove that has been in her family for half a century. Every day, this lonely creature resigned to her solitude literally turns lemons into lemonade.

Mira Navon (the equally striking Rona Lipaz-Michael) is an Israeli, wife of the newly elected defense minister (Doron Tavary) who moves into a modernist house on the Israeli side abutting Salma's farmhouse and grove. Mira, who like Salma has a child living in the United States, is likewise lonely and finds herself peering across at Salma, her mirror image.

When authorities deem that the defense minister's new house needs defense, a watchtower is built, soldiers patrol its perimeter, and the grove is classified as a security risk. No sooner does Salma hear from Israeli authorities that her grove will be expropriated than she hires a sympathetic lawyer who takes the case to the Supreme Court.

In this vest-pocket version of Israeli/Palestinian grievances, the rhetoric from lawyers and judges is not half so eloquent as the concerned faces of the women who recognize their sisterhood and sympathy. For want of the water of human kindness, suggests Lemon Tree, two peoples might wither.


Contact movie critic Carrie Rickey at 215-854-5402 or crickey@phillynews.com. Read her blog, Flickgrrl, at http://www.philly.com/philly/blogs/flickgrrl/

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