Lemon Tree

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Inspired by a real-life incident, this captivating Israeli film is both a compelling story of self-determination and an astute evaluation of the current state of a divided territory. On the border of the West Bank, a Palestinian household has tended its lemon grove for generations, but when the Israeli Defence Minister (Doron Tavory) moves in just the other side of the perimeter, his guards decide that the trees constitute a security risk and must be chopped down.
Fortysomething widow Salma (Hiam Abbass, the wonderful Palestinian actress from Tom McCarthy’s ‘The Visitor’) won’t give up on her family’s heritage so easily. As new military watchtowers loom over her property, she makes the decision to engage an overworked local lawyer (Ali Suliman) to tackle the full might of the Israeli state in court.

Israeli director Eran Riklis’s film, co-written by Palestinian journalist Suha Arraf, encompasses wider issues beyond this admittedly engrossing legal mismatch. For one thing, it exposes the vulnerable position of a lone widow in a retrenched, conservative Arab community, yet it also allows for glimmers of compassion across the partisan rift, fascinatingly tracing a surprising complicity between Salma and the Defence Minister’s increasingly sceptical spouse (Rona Lipaz-Michael). Mindful of its evidently symbolic import, yet generous to its characters on both sides, the story builds narrative momentum from its battling underdog through-line, yet there’s no hint of oversimplification. Persuasive, lived-in performances inscribe the possibility of hope on an individual level, yet Riklis is also enough of a realist to work his way towards a powerfully sobering final image. Abbass’s soulful resilience is the emotional clincher.

Release details

Rated: PG
Release date: Friday December 12 2008
Duration: 106 mins

Cast and crew

Director: Eran Riklis
Screenwriter: Eran Riklis, Suha Arraf
Cast: Hiam Abbass
Doron Tavory
Ali Sulmian
Rona Lipaz-Michael
Tarik Kopty
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