Lemon Tree (Etz Limon)
Directed by: Eran Riklis
Cast: Hiam Abbass, Rona Lipaz-Michael, Ali Suliman
Running Time: 1 hr 45 mins
Release Date: June 5, 2009
Plot: When the Israeli Defense Minister moves in next to a woman’s lemon grove, the Secret Service determines it must be cut down for national security, but Salma Zidane (Abbass) refuses to allow that to happen. She takes her neighbors to court in an effort to preserve her trees, which make up her livelihood as well as a connection to her past.
Who’s It For? You don’t have to be interested in Israeli/Palestinian politics to enjoy this film. It’s for anyone who likes a well thought out drama.
Expectations: I expected a slow melodrama about the inability of Israelis and Palestinians to get along.
Hiam Abbass as Salma Zidane: Abbass does an excellent job as a widow who lives alone with her lemon grove. Salma lives on ancestral land; the home she was raised in is also where she lived with her husband. As a widow, she’s marginalized, expected to live up to the standards of the community (chastity) while not asking too much of anyone else, but she fights, fiercely for her lemon grove. Abbass handles the character delicately, and Salma mainly expresses herself through her eyes. The few times where she speaks out, she completely commands the film. Lemon Tree itself is not an amazing film, but Abbass elevates it with her full throttle portrayal of a proud woman.
Rona Lipaz-Michael as Mira Navon: Mira is a counterpoint to Salma: a wealthy woman married to a powerful man, but Salma is safe and Mira is not. Still, she empathizes with Salma, and they watch one another warily from opposite sides of the fence that divides them. Lipaz-Michael does not have the charisma of Abbass but she makes Mira a compassionate and likable woman. The film contrasts the two women without trying to put either one in a negative light.
Ali Suliman as Ziad Daud: As the lawyer with heart, Suliman does a good job with a tired role. The filmmakers make it a little more interesting by giving Daud and Salma a little bit of a romance, but essentially he’s just there to aid Salma. Daud’s totally believable, but he just doesn’t shine like Abbass does.
Talking: Lemon Tree uses both Hebrew and Arabic, and you can guess who speaks what. If it wasn’t for knowing which characters were Palestinian and which were Israeli, I wouldn’t know who was speaking what language. Since misunderstandings–both cultural and linguistic–are a theme, I felt like I was missing out a bit.
Sights: Exotic. The titular lemon trees stand out against the drab desert background. I have to give a shout to to Abbass again, because of the au natural look she went with. I wish it wasn’t so, but it’s still brave to act in film without being super made up with perfect hair. She played a woman with a hard life and let that life be written on her face.
Sounds: Some Palistinian music on the soundtrack, but nothing terribly exciting.
Best Scene: When Salma cracked and started throwing lemons at the Nevons. It was the only time the two adversaries actually stood face to face and confronted one another. Clearly, they had all the power and her lemon throwing was totally ineffectual. I felt for her but I also felt her shame about being reduced to throwing lemons like a crazy woman.
Ending: Works really well. Salma wins, but also loses. Anything happier would seem unreal, and anything less would seem melodramatic.
Questions: Why did the Nevons move to the West Bank? If they’re so concerned about security why not move somewhere safer?
Rewatchability: The film would be enjoyable again.
I’ve seen a variety of films trying to make sense of the conflict between Palestinians and Israelis. By focusing on a microcosm, Lemon Tree is pretty successful. Salma’s fight to retain her orchard is noble, she just wants to keep what’s hers. But as someone who doesn’t live in a war zone, I had to wonder why she didn’t just go and talk with the neighbors. The tragedy of the film lies in the similarities between Salma and Mira. In other circumstances the two women would be friendsm but they’re separated by culture, a language, and a fence.
The film exceeded my expectations. Between Riklis’ direction and Abbass’ performance, the story feels real and immediate rather than didactic. Give it a shot on a lazy summer afternoon.
Final Score: 7/10