Lemon Tree

From May ’09 Spotlight: “Salma Zidane,” the main character in Eran Riklis’ beautiful new film Lemon Tree, is a Palestinian widow who has lived in a small house on the eastern edge of the green line for most of her life. But Salma’s quiet habits and lonely routines are immediately impacted when “Mira Navon” becomes her new neighbor. Mira and her husband are Israelis, and Mira’s husband is Israel’s Minister of Defense.

Both women are empty-nesters with children in America, and as the film progresses, this is one source of mutual empathy. Watching from windows on different sides of the fence that cuts through Salma’s lemon grove, they become allies if never quite friends.

Eran Riklis directed The Syrian Bride and produced Three Mothers (two films that have played to audience acclaim at recent Chicago film festivals), and Lemon Tree screenwriter Suha Arraf also wrote The Syrian Bride screenplay. Riklis and Arraf have developed a unique collaboration; their films are delicate and understated, with profound sympathy for female characters trapped at the edges of male conflict.

I know some critics have politicized this film, claiming it’s either pro-Palestinian and/or anti-Israeli but I vehemently disagree. When soldiers arrive to cut down Salma’s lemon trees, it’s not just a power play. Terrorists are, in fact, hiding weapons there, and they don’t care about Salma’s needs either. This film is a prayer for peace and the end of enmity.

Lemon Tree opens on May 1 at both of our local Landmark theatres: Century Centre (Chicago) and Renaissance Place (Highland Park). To read my interview with Hiam Abbass (the actress who plays Salma), visit: http://www.films42.com/chats/Hiam_Abbass.asp.

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