7 September 2009 | gradyharp
A Sensitive Inside View of the Israeli Palestinian Conflict
LEMON TREE (ETZ LIMON) is a film of quiet power, the kind of film that does not find it necessary to expose the audience to violence and conflagrations to make its point, but instead relies on the power of human reactions to carry the very heartfelt punch. Written by Suha Arraf and Eran Riklis (who also directs) the story is a deceptively simple one. The setting is the West Bank. On the Palestinian side of the border lives the widow Salma Zidane (the enormously gifted actress Hiam Abbass remembered best by American audiences for her luminous portrayal of the mother in THE VISITOR) who continues to tend her family's lemon grove alone, barely making enough money to support herself. Abruptly, on the Israeli side of the border, the government builds a house for the Israeli Defense Minister Israel Navon (Doron Tavory) and his beautiful and wisely sensitive wife Mira Navon (Rona Lipaz-Michael). Strange neighbors, these, more under the influence of the Israeli Secret Police who are assigned to guard the Minister than sensitive to the basic kindness of human decency. The Secret Service decides the lemon grove must be cut down to guard against possible terrorist access to the Minister, a declaration that sets off Salma's fear of losing her land and income. Salma seeks the help of young lawyer Zaid Daud (Ali Suliman) who bonds with her emotionally and legally and together they fight all the way to the Supreme Court to save the lemon trees. Fences are built, soldiers abuse the privacy of Salma, and the increased publicity in the media divides not only the peoples on both sides of the border but also the Navons: Mira empathizes with Salma, champions her rights, and though the two women never meet, the bond between them transcends the ages long hostilities between the Arabs and the Israelis. The result of the interpersonal conflict between the Navons and Salma is buried by the expected governmental insensitivity and the film ends with some sad surprises.
The cast of this film, including the minor roles that draw focus for only moments but in a memorable manner, is uniformly exceptional. Hiam Abbass is rapidly becoming one of the most impressive actresses on the screen today: she says more with her eyes and her body language than pages of dialogue could attempt. The surprises come from the other members of the quartet of actors that lead this story, so impressive are their portrayals that the entire question of the West Bank conflict seems understandable...and remedial! Based on a true story, this is an excellent film on many levels. In Hebrew, Arabic, English and French with subtitles.