The Palestinian widow Salma Zidane lives alone in a humble concrete house. Her son lives in the US, her daughter lives with her family in another village. She hardly sees anyone apart from an old man who already helped her father tend the lemon trees behind the house. The lemon grove she has inherited from her father is her only possession, her only possibility to make a living. The grove is 5o years old, the trees are lush and green, very healthy and produce an abundance of intense yellow fruit. Salma enjoys walking through the rows of trees, to tend to them, water them, pick the fruit, make lemonade or pickle them. For 50 years the lemon grove has been the pride and joy of her family.
But Eran Rikli’s movie Lemon Tree is not about joy, it’s about conflict, a conflict that breaks out when the Israeli Minister of Defense moves into the villa next to Salma’s grove. Salma lives on the West Bank, the grove is located directly on the Israeli border. And what is life-enhancing for one person, becomes a threat for another. Fences are erected, control posts installed, security cameras attached everywhere, military patrols scheduled. Still, that doesn’t seem enough. Terrorists could hide under the trees. Bombs could be thrown.
When the Secret Service decides to have the grove torn down, Salma seeks help. She finds a young, idealistic lawyer who wants to help her. It takes months and months, to fight for the trees. Meanwhile the Israelis have erected a huge fence all around the grove and Salma isn’t allowed to enter it anymore. She has to watch helplessly how the healthy trees are dying.
The movie doesn’t only focus on the conflict but looks into the different relationships of the people involved. The minister’s wife and Salma often look at each other through the fence, each wondering how the other woman lives. The grove and the decision to have it destroyed lead to a lot of tension in the marriage of the minister and his wife. On the other side of the fence, Salma and Ziad the lawyer develop a friendship that could become more, if there weren’t the watchful eyes of the ever-present Palestinian elders.
Lemon Tree is a very subtle movie that sheds light on one of the hot spots in the Middle East. It doesn’t give any easy answers nor blame excessively. Both parties are trapped, trapped in their cultures, their languages, their fears. The fences and walls that are erected are symbols of this imprisonment as much as the lemon trees are a symbol of freedom and beauty. In the end there is no win-win but a loss-loss situation.
I was very moved by this movie and to a large extent this is also thanks to the great actors. Hiam Abbass as Salma and Ali Suliman as Ziad are outstanding. It’s certainly not a cheerful movie but an important one.
Lemon Tree is part of my World Cinema Series and a contribution to Richard’s Foreign Film Festival.
21 thoughts on “Lemon Tree – Etz Limon (2008) World Cinema Series – Israel”
I heard the book was very good but I didn’t realize it was such an unhappy outcome. I may watch the movie anyway though; I really like your review of it!
Thanks a lot. I hope you will like it. I wasn’t aware it was a book as well. There is a book with a similar or even the same title but I thought it was another story. I’m really not sure.
Hiam Abbass is also in Satin Rouge which I wish you could see. Saw Lemon Tree and liked it. Not too heavy-handed.
I really liked her. I tried to find Satin Rouge but no luck so far. No, it wasn’t heavy handed as he included some side stories that worked well.
I’ve heard good things about this film elsewhere online. I didn’t realise it was so sad, though. I am dreadful about movies; I so rarely watch one, and when I do I tend to go for something a bit more cheeful. I’m sure it means I miss out on all kinds of good films, but alas there are only so many hours in the day.
I think if they had shown another ending it would have been pure wishful thinking. There are too many stories just like this one.
Wow this movie sounds like a beautiful, moving film. I worry about watching it since I think it would anger me. But that is probably the best reason to watch it.
Oh it certainly does but it’s well done and very thought-provoking. It’s such an absurd situation. In reality and in the movie.
I saw this movie last year and thought it was wonderful, Caroline. Hiam Abbass is such a great actress. I highly recommend The Syrian Bride–she is incredible in that too.
It is, isnt it? Thanks for letting me know about The Syrian Bride. I was tempted to watch it. She is wonderful, I liked her a lot.
Wonderful review, Caroline! This looks like a beautiful movie! I love the title! I want to watch it now 🙂 I am loving the World Cinema series 🙂
Thanks, Vishy, I’m glad you like the series. I have a thing for lemon trees. I might even buy a little one for the balcony.
I enjoyed seeing her make lemonade. And the grove is so beautiful.
This sounds heartbreaking, but very worth watching. I’m reading a memoir (have literarlly just started it today) about a young Palestinian girl (well written from an adult perspective) whose family had to leave their home in Jerusalem–sounds very similar–just the experience of the family not necessarily finger pointing. I should watch this as a companion piece. Thanks for the heads up as I had not heard of this one.
I think it would go very well with your Middle East reading project. I have a few other movies and books from that region I want to watch. Those stories are herabreaking and one can never really say who is right and who is wrong although we do root for her and the trees.
Thanks for the reminder about this film, Caroline. I saw a preview of it a long time ago and was interested in watching it, but I missed it when it played in the theaters locally and then promptly forgot about it. Your review makes it sound as compelling as I thought and hoped it might be.
I think it’s well worth watching. Nothing really plays out the way we expect and once more this showed me how conditioned I am by US movies. I hope you will like it as well.
I have read this review before your newest post but I want to see the trailer before commenting.
The trailer looks interesting and your description of the story is quite depressing, I mean for the main character. I feel sorry for the people living in that area, it’s a constant war between Palestina and Israel, we will never know when it’s gonna. Religion and Politic play big role in it.
Great review and you make me want to see it too.
I thought the movie was well done without blaming too much. I have one or two books by Palestinian writers and should read them finally.
Somehow I I fear this conflict is never going to end.
I have the same feeling…it will go on forever
Yes, it feels like a hopeless situation. So sad for all the people involved.
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