In his latest film, 'Lemon Tree', Israeli director Eran Riklis presents a sensitive but hard-hitting commentary on the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian struggles.
In his latest film, Lemon Tree, Israeli director Eran Riklis presents a sensitive but hard-hitting commentary on the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian struggles. Like his earlier The Syrian Bride, Lemon Tree depicts those international battles as they affect very ordinary human lives. A Palestinian widow, Salma Zidana, played magnificently by Hiam Abass, fights the Israeli order that her grove of lemon trees, planted by her father fifty years ago and now providing her only source of livelihood, should be uprooted because of the possible security threat they pose to the Israeli Defence Minister Navon, who, with his wife, Mira, has built a luxurious home on the Green Line Border between Israel and Palestine, next to Salma’s lemon grove. In her fight to save the trees Salma finds support from Ziad, a young Palestinian lawyer played by Ali Suliman. Ziad agrees to take the case into the courts, even as far as the Israeli Supreme Court when Salma insists on fighting to the end. The gentle relationship that intensifies between the older woman and the young lawyer has been seen as a rather clichéd weakness in the film, but it provides a growing warmth and draws the audience into a closer involvement with the widow. It is the catalyst that reveals the patriarchal domination in the Palestinian town, where the leading men turn against Salma and advise her to refuse even the small compensation offered by Israel for her lemon trees. It also provides a contrast to the other man-woman relationship, that between Mira and her husband. As the widow and the lawyer become more intimate, so do the Defence Minister and his wife grow further apart. The promotional poster for Lemon Tree depicts these two women in profile, suggesting that their stories are the focus of this film. Actors Hiam Abbass and Rona Lipaz-Michael give understated but powerful performances as Salma and Mira respectively. The quiet inner power of both women shines out, as each one chooses direct action in face of the male domination that confronts her. Potent links connect the two women, especially the strength of their motherly love for children from whom they are separated. Salma’s son living in America only takes his mother’s plight seriously when he sees her interviewed on television in the bar where he works. The Israeli Mira becomes intrigued by her Palestinian neighbour Salma, and in many subtle ways the audiences is made aware of a bond growing between the two. It reminded me forcefully of the suggestion that healing between these nations might be possible were women from opposing sides able to share their stories. The film abounds in visual contrasts that reinforce the storyline. Most obvious is the difference between Salma’s modest home and the simple life she leads there and the Defence Minister’s new house. The differences are highlighted when they host a lavish party and food, wine and music flow abundantly. The Israeli wives display a brittle urbanity that barely conceals the emptiness of emotion behind it, as they describe themselves as ‘desperate housewives’. Although Salma is so much poorer materially than her neighbours, she has a much richer emotional life thanks to her friendship with Ziad, the support of her wise old helper in the grove and her love for the land and her lemon trees. When Salma and Ziad arrive at the Israeli Supreme Court the contrast between the sleek, modern buildings and immaculate landscaping of Israeli Jerusalem and the rubble and destruction in their home town makes a powerful visual statement about the harshness faced daily by the Palestinians. The all-pervading presence of the grey concrete security wall built through their neighbourhood is a shocking reminder, more powerful than any words, of how their lives have been shattered by Israeli defence measures. I found this film especially moving when viewed against the back-ground of the recent Israeli offensive into Palestinian land. It is encouraging to know that it was made by an Israeli director. Somerville Outdoor Theatre: 23 Feb – 1 March, 8:30pm Joondalup Pines: 2 – 8 March, 8:30pm

Trisha Kotai-Ewers

Tuesday 17 February, 2009

About the author

Trisha Kotai-Ewers is a reviewer for Arts Hub.