|Ali Suliman||Ziad Daud|
|Makram J. Khoury||Abu Camal|
|Doron Tavory||Israel Navon|
|Hiam Abbas||Salma Zidane|
|Tarik Copty||Abu Hussam|
|Directed by||Eran Riklis|
In this David and Goliath story, the ethnic roles are switched. David is a Palestinian widow, alone, poor but proud, scrabbling a meager existence off the land; Goliath is a Jew, the Israeli Defense Minister no less, with the awesome power of the state at his fingertips. It's not a fair fight, and in the real world (if a movie metaphor can be called the real world), there's no guarantee of a happy ending.
Salma Zidane (Hiam Abbass) lives right smack on the Green Line separating Palestinian and Israeli territory on the West Bank. Her only means of support is the lemon grove that her father planted half a century ago. Since the death of her husband a few years earlier, she has been cultivating her lemon trees with only the help of faithful old family retainer Abu Hassam (Tarik Copti). The late husband glowers down from the wall in a photo portrait that calls to mind the famous image of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in captivity; we get the feeling it may not have been much of a life for her when he was alive.
But things are getting worse. A new neighbor is moving in next door, just beyond the lemon grove. Before you can say "There goes the neighborhood," Israeli Defense Minister Israel Navon (Doron Tavory) is settling in across the Green Line, and his security forces are casting a sour eye on the flourishing rows of lemon trees lovingly coaxed and coddled from the desert earth by Salma.
To the eyes of the security detail, the lemon grove would make perfect cover for a terrorist attack on the Defense Minister's house. And so they erect a watchtower and put up a fence, and issue an order that the trees must come down. But the Israelis are not brutes. They send the widow a letter informing her of the decision, but offering her compensation; which, they point out, they are not obligated to do. They're just being nice.
The letter is in Hebrew, and Salma doesn't speak the language, so she goes to a Palestinian elder, Abu Camal (Makram J. Khoury), for a translation. "Of course you can't accept the compensation," Camal tells her. "We don't take anything from the Jews."
But Salma has no intention of taking any of it. She goes to a lawyer, Ziad Daud (Ali Suliman), and declares her intention to fight the edict. Eventually they will appeal all the way to the Israeli Supreme Court. "Do you know what that means?" Ziad asks her. "No," she replies, "but I've had my share of grief in life."
Eran Riklis, who directed and co-wrote with Suha Arraf (they also collaborated on The Syrian Bride), has made a compelling movie that takes its strength from the ground-level picture it gives of the human aspect of the problems in that part of the world. What makes this movie special is the work of the wonderful Abbass, an Israeli-born Palestinian actress who has begun to make an international name for herself with movies like The Syrian Bride, Satin Rouge, and The Visitor. As she fights for her lemon grove, she shows a kind of elemental strength that seems drawn from the earth itself.
She represents Palestinian tradition, but also a spirit of feminist change. As she pursues her court case from a military tribunal to the Supreme Court, she begins to develop a romantic relationship with the handsome divorced lawyer. This scandalizes the chauvinistic patriarchy of the Palestinian community, and she receives a visit from Camal who warns her in stern tones to clean up her act. She listens, impassive, and goes on about her life.
Salma's counterpart on the other side of the line is Mira (Rona Lipaz-Michael), the wife of the minister. Mira feels as trapped in her way as Salma does on the other side. Her marriage is shaky, she suspects her husband of infidelity, and she feels a sisterly bond with the neighbor a stone's throw and a world away. Both women, unbeknownst to each other, have a child who has grown up and moved to America. The future lies there, and in the changing attitudes of women and of younger people that may eventually shift the hard ground that has bedeviled this part of the world. The young Israeli soldier who mans the watchtower overlooking the lemon grove spends his time studying for a college admissions test in logic, and feels sympathy for Salma. The public, Israeli and international, begins to take her side as this story gains media attention, "There must be another solution," Mira says to her husband when she learns of the fate decreed for the lemon grove. "Three thousand years, and nobody's found one," is his dismissive reply.
Salma makes a lot of lemonade, which is what the old saw says we should do when life gives us lemons. She serves it to her visitors, and struggles on, and hopes for a better future. It may not come right away, but it will have to come eventually.
© Text 2009 Jonathan Richards - Filmfreak.be