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Film Review: Lemon Tree

Lemon Tree

Lemon Tree

Lemon Tree

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  • Image © 2010 Celeste Heiter

A lemon grove that lies on the border between Israel and the West Bank is the focus of this film, in which Salma Zidane, a Palestinian widow, must defend her family legacy against the destructive edict of Israeli security forces who believe that the thick foliage of the orchard poses a potential threat to the safety of her next-door neighbor, Defense Minister Israel Navon. Although the widow Zidane barely ekes out a living from the proceeds of the orchard, and the defense minister is understandably justified in his security concerns, the edict represents a violation of a citizen's basic civil rights, and turns on the more delicate yet overriding issues of pride and principle.

Madame Zidane enlists the services of Ziad Daud, a young attorney recommended by her son-in-law, to help save her orchard from being uprooted and destroyed. And as the battle wages on, from the military authorities to the local magistrate and onward to the Supreme Court, the orchard is fenced off and the distraught widow is prohibited from trespassing within its boundaries to tend her trees.

On the other side of the fence, Defense Minister Navon is dispassionate in his perspective on the matter, while his wife Mira displays a growing empathy toward their neighbor's plight. But when news of the lemon grove conflict hits the front pages of the tabloids, Madame Zidane is suddenly thrust into the limelight as a righteous but reluctant icon.

Co-written and directed by Eran Riklis, Lemon Tree is a small yet significant film that casts an even-handed if controversial spotlight on the kinds of tensions that can arise when two such disparate cultures attempt to occupy the same small territory. The production is flawlessly crafted with masterful art direction and cinematography. Pacing and plot development are mindfully compelling, and the performance by Hiam Abbass as the widow Salma Zidane lends a regal air to this everyman's drama. As bittersweet as its title suggests, Lemon Tree is one of Israel's finest films.

Published on 8/30/10

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