Into the Grove

Lemon Tree
Running Time 106 minutes
Written By Suha Arraf and Eran Riklis
Directed by Eran Riklis
Starring Hiam Abbass and Rona Lipaz-Michael

Eran Riklis’ Lemon Tree, from a screenplay by Suha Arraf and Mr. Riklis, attempts to humanize the 60-year-old conflict between Israelis and Palestinians by making a Palestinian widow, Salma Zidane (Hiam Abbass), the main protagonist, in her quixotic attempt to preserve her lemon grove against the perceived security concerns of the Israeli military authorities. She takes her case all the way to the Israeli Supreme Court, which, I suppose, attests to the comparatively enlightened Israeli judiciary vis à vis the judiciary in most of the Muslim world.

Still, I am not sure that this audience-pleasing narrative strategy of pitting the individual against the state is entirely relevant to a situation and a region in which there is a seemingly intractable hatred of the Jewish state by its Muslim neighbors. At a time when Hamas rockets are being fired into Israel, the quasi-satirical treatment of Israeli security personnel and paranoia in Lemon Tree seems to pertain to a different and more idyllic world than the one in which the Israeli people currently find themselves.

This is not to say that Lemon Tree is without merit as dramatic entertainment. The acting, the writing, the direction and the cinematography are all beyond reproach. The film even has a timely environmental subtext in which a Palestinian woman’s lemon tree becomes a metaphorical character.

Salma’s lemon grove is located on the border between Israel and the West Bank. When Israel’s defense minister, Israel Navon (Doran Tavory), moves with his wife, Mira (Rona Lipaz-Michael), right across from the dense lemon grove, the stage is set for a clash over priorities.

Mr. Riklis can argue with some justification that Lemon Tree “is really a film about solitude as it is reflected in the lives of two women—Salma on the Palestinian side and Mira, the defense minister’s wife, on the Israeli one.” Certainly, Salma and Mira are not treated as especially privileged creatures in either the Palestinian or the Israeli social order. In addition to her troubles with the Israeli security people, Salma is warned by a Palestinian elder in an especially ugly scene that it would be unseemly for a Palestinian widow to dishonor her late husband by becoming romantically involved with her young Palestinian defense attorney, Ziad Daud (Ali Suliman). For her part, Mira is left alone for large periods of time, and is completely intimidated by her pompous husband. Her tentative efforts to form a relationship with her next-door neighbor are ignored by the understandably suspicious Salma.

There is much footage devoted to the ongoing development and industrialization of the Israeli landscape as if to add to the pathos of Salma’s solitary effort to save the lemon trees planted by her late father 50 years before. Ultimately, Mr Riklis’ film projects a liberal and secular viewpoint in Israel toward the Palestinian people, many of whom have settled in Israel itself. One can only hope that the expression of such an attitude will hasten the rapprochement of the two entities. One can also be skeptical that such a desired event will occur anytime soon. Nonetheless, Lemon Tree is well worth seeing as a first-class artistic achievement bridging two civilizations.


Into the Grove