Lowdown: A Palestinian woman, an Israeli woman, and the soon to be demolished lemon trees in between.
There are some genuinely excellent films coming from Israel over the last few years. You could argue this is because the areas’ conflicts supply a lot of movie making ammunition, but regardless there can be no denying the quality of films like The Band’s Visit or Beaufort. Now, after watching Lemon Tree, I can confidently add another film to the list of excellence.
Lemon Tree captures contemporary nuances of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to a T. It follows the lives of two women over a short period of time, two women of similar age living in two neighboring houses. Only that one of them is Palestinian, the other an Israeli, and in between them lies the path through which a wall of separation between the two peoples is meant to pass. The Palestinian woman is a poor widower whose kids left home and who makes her living out of the lemon tree plantation her family owned for generations. The Israeli woman is newly moved to the area with her husband, Israel’s Minister of Defense, and with all the secret service security such a role brings. Unlike the Palestinian woman, who lives in an authentic Arab dwelling, the Israeli woman lives in a newly built flashy house she designed herself along Arab motifs; money, it seems, was not an issue for her.
However, the lemon tree plantation does become an issue for the minister’s security people, who deem it a threat: terrorists could easily launch an attack under the trees’ cover, and therefore the trees have to be uprooted in the name of security. For the rest of the film we witness the ensuing conflict as the Palestinian stands strong and hires a young hot-shot Palestinian lawyer to defend her trees while the Israeli woman identifies with her neighbor but finds herself unable to do much as she witnesses her husband’s double talk on the matter and as her family falls apart through the conflict that follows.
Lemon Tree really does tell you most of what you need to know in order to experience the damage that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict inflicts on everyone it touches. You witness the Palestinian suffering, but you also witness the Israeli suffering as the people that care find themselves unable to act and those that don’t care find their humanity suffering, which has subsequent effects on their personal lives. The great thing about Lemon Tree is the seeming ease with which it achieves this portrayal of slight nuances without attracting much viewer attention. A lot of Lemon Tree’s success has to do with its authenticity: characters speak authentic languages, people dress and act accordingly, sets and outfits are authentic down to the unit tags on the shoulders of Israeli army personnel, and neither side of the conflict is portrayed as pure of sin.
The Israeli woman crosses the “border” to confront her Palestinian neighbor and tell her in her face that she supports her stand for her lemons. However, the secret service follows her and prevents the confrontation that could have resolved the whole affair at the center of the film.
Living in Israel I often had the feeling that Israel is an army with a nation around it, a feeling shared by many left wing Israelis. This scene perfectly demonstrates why that notion is there: the army stands between the two sides, making sure they remain in conflict despite the obvious need and will of each side to talk to the other and find a better way out.
No wonder I chose to do what some of Lemon Tree’s characters did, leaving the conflict I never wanted to be a part of behind me.
Technical assessment: To put it mildly, this is not a DVD you would get for its technical qualities. One can only wonder whether this is due to an artistic decision, poor budget or unprofessional DVD authoring.
Overall: A film that manages to successfully tell the story of today’s Israeli-Palestinian conflict by personifying it into two innocent women on either side of the fence is a film that deserves much praise. Lemon Tree deserves more than 4 out of 5 stars.