Lemon Tree Hampered by Flat-Footed Direction

The asymmetrical border dispute in Lemon Tree feels instantly familiar, and, indeed, Israeli director Eran Riklis's last drama, The Syrian Bride, also hinged on absurdities and indignities suffered literally on the dotted line. West Bank widow Salma (Hiam Abbass) is minding her own boundary-abutting business—namely, a lemon grove—when the Israeli Defense Minister Navon himself (Doron Tavory) moves in across the way. When his guards huff that the trees could become terrorist hidey-holes, fences and a watchtower are noisily erected, and the stage is set for the schematic face-off. Co-written by Riklis and journalist/documentarian Suha Arraf, the story touches on Salma's fortitude, Navon's hypocritical bluster, his wife's tacit respect for their neighbor, and media attention. Promising parallels abound (not least between the two women's burdens), but the direction is stubbornly flat-footed, especially with Salma's frowned-upon dalliance with her well-traveled young lawyer (Ali Suliman). Her day in Supreme Court leans the film into the "We were here first" allegory that the filmmakers had, up until then, been genteelly tamping down with lighter moments, like a catnapping watchtower guard, or the fact that everyone loves lemonade. But it's the moment Abbass's face is made for—her noble lineaments could be stamped on a coin.

 
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