by M. Faust
One of the most memorable foreign films I’ve seen in the last decade was The Syrian Bride (2004), a funny, sad and involving look at the myriad daily difficulties faced by Middle Easterners who need to cross borders. It was an international hit for the veteran Israeli filmmaker Eran Riklis, whose newest film, Lemon Tree, explores similar territory with more muted effect. The film stars Hiam Abbass, whom you may remember as the mother searching for his deported son in Thomas McCarthy’s The Visitor, as Salma, a Palestinian widow who livelihood depends on a lemon grove inherited from her father. The film proceeds from a premise that seems awfully contrived: her grove is on the “green line” that separates Israel from the West Bank, and when Israel’s newly elected defense minister builds a house on the other side of the border, the order goes out to uproot her trees lest they provide a conduit for a terrorist attack. (Neither side ever asks the obvious question: Why was the house built there in the first place?) Salma appeals the order through the Israeli courts with the assistance of a young lawyer and, unbeknownst to her, the sympathy of the minister’s wife. But what initially looks like it is going to play as a political polemic instead develops into a meditation on solitude and loneliness. The encroachment of the Israeli “security fence,” better known to those on either side of it on the West Bank as “the Wall,” gains a wholly different poignance as a personal symbol. A quiet film with little music or background noise, Lemon Tree may be too sedate for some viewers: It asks us to understand some actions that would be much more explicit in a Western film. But it moves in surprising ways that carry you along to places where you weren’t expecting to go.
Watch the trailer for Lemon Tree
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