Reviews - Lemon Tree
Reviewed By John Stakes
The grove had never previously been used or perceived as a cover for terrorists and a possible threat to Israeli national security until Salma finds she has new next door neighbours in the form of the coldly calculating Israeli Defence Minister and his beautiful but no less lonely wife Mira.
The Israelis decide to perimeter-fence Salma’s grove and construct a look-out tower having ordered her to keep out. Salma hires a Palestinian divorce lawyer Ziad Daud to take her appeal against this decision through the Israeli court system and ultimately to its Supreme Court. Mira’s sympathy for Salma’s plight grows as the lemons die and the case progresses, and the two women finally come face to face on the steps of the court on the dreadful day of judgement. Salma’s appeal all but fails when the court rules that the grove need not be uprooted but that half the trees must be severely pruned.
In the meantime we have been shown the gargantuan concrete wall in the course of construction by the Israelis along the border with the West Bank. The wall reaches the boundary of the Defence Minister’s home entirely obliterating their view of Salma’s grove just as her appeal is lost as a result of which Mira decides to leave her husband and home.
The decision to cast Hiam Abbass (last seen as the mother of a Syrian illegal immigrant in The Visitor last autumn) as Salma was inspired, her own life reflecting the conflict and its human impact. She was born in Nazareth of Palestinian parents in 1960 after her parents became refugees in Palestine when the State of Israel was created. In the 1967 seven days’ war she had family and friends in Lebanon and Syria who were fighting the Israeli neighbours she grew up with. She eventually moved to London when she felt uncomfortable living in Palestine under the Israelis and now speaks four languages including Arabic her mother tongue.
Throughout Lemon Tree Salma remains dignified, even serene. She scarcely needed to speak as Abbass perfectly captured in her face Salma’s inner melancholy and eventual despair. The film was more an essay on the frustrating consequences of the failure to communicate with one’s enemies than an overt political drama, with Riklis determined to be even-handed throughout. But there was political significance everywhere and particularly as the lemons fell from the un-watered trees. The final tracking shot as the camera moved through Mira’s home when the blinds were drawn to reveal the monstrosity of the wall a few yards away over which the camera climbed to look down on Salma’s decimated lemon grove was heart wrenchingly powerful.
A magnificent film and a worthy festival entry.
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