Lemon Tree


Directed by: Eran Riklis
Written by:Suha Arraf, Eran Riklis
Starring: Hiam Abbass, Doron Tavory, Ali Suliman, Rona Lipaz-Michael, Tarik Kopty, Amos Lavi
Released: November 13, 2008
Grade: C+

I saw Lemon Tree back in July as a preview to the 2008 Brisbane International Film Festival.  I went with a friend and I can remember our reactions walking out of the cinema.  We were both disappointed and couldn’t understand what all the hype was about.

Nearly a month later, I went along to the closing night screening of the Festival.  Prior to the film commencing, the Festival Director revealed the top 10 movies as voted by the audience.  You could tell from the stunned look on my face that I was surprised to see Lemon Tree ranked in 2nd place.  My first reaction was… what were these people thinking?  Now that I have to write up a review for Lemon Tree, I feel I should by asking myself this question.  Why didn’t I like it?  What was it that I missed?

The story is about a Palestinian widow named Salma (Abbass) who lives near the border between Israel and the West Bank.  She lives a simple life and makes a living by selling lemons.  Her property has a nice lemon grove and it has provided an income for decades.

Her world is turned on its head when the new Israeli Defence Minister, Israel Navon (Tavory), moves into the house next door.  Given his position, a large number of security men have been entrusted to guard both him and his family.  A lookout tower is immediately built in the backyard so that the guards can see who is approaching.

The problem is that Salma’s lemon grove is obscuring the view from the tower.  Security is worried that that the Minister’s enemies could use the grove as a hide-out before launching an attack.  The Minister therefore orders that the lemon trees be cut down.

The tale now becomes one of David versus Goliath.  With little money to spare, Salma finds an understanding lawyer and takes the case to the Israeli Supreme Court.  It makes newspaper headlines across the world with the Defence Minister portrayed in a negative light.  Who will be the first to back down?

What I haven’t yet touched on are the relationships in the film.  Salma’s developing friendship with her lawyer, Ziad (Suliman), has attracted unwanted attention from people in her community.  There’s also the deteriorating relationship between the Defence Minister and his wife (Lipaz-Michael), who doesn’t agree with some of his decisions.

Those that enjoy Lemon Tree will develop a connection with Salma and feel passion for her story.  I did not however.  I thought the story was “too manufactured” – it was like something that you’d see from Hollywood.  Security is so tight at the Defence Minister’s house and yet the guard in the lookout tower never seems to be paying attention.  This is meant to be a joke but they keep using it over and over again.

I see the importance of the film given that it highlights some of the problems between Israelis and Palestinians.  I’ve been extremely impressed with some of the movies in recent years which have focused on this part of the world.  Lemon Tree wasn’t for me however and to use a cliché, it left a rather sour taste in my mouth.