For anyone itching to see Stephen Dorff portray an Israeli POW, your opportunity has finally arrived. Zaytoun follows Dorff’s Yoni, an Israeli pilot imprisoned by the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) in 1982 Beirut. In captivity he befriends Fahed (Abdallah El Akal), a fast-talking 12-year-old refugee and one of the PLO’s newly recruited child soldiers. After his father is killed, Fahed frees Yoni in the hopes of a mutually beneficial trip to the Israeli border, Yoni seeking homeland safety and Fahed an unmapped family home to plant one of his father’s trees. Alternating abruptly between road-trip comedy and war-through-a-child’s-eyes melodrama, the film’s tonal inconsistency prevents the story from gelling; Dorff’s awful accent may also have something to do with it. The uneven structure portends increasingly arbitrary plot contrivances, as the events that bind the two become less interesting or meaningful even when they’re telegraphed. It feels like director Eran Riklis hoped that by throwing everything at the viewer the inherently charged content would ensure emotional engagement. Had he committed to either a straightforward wartime drama or a multi-generational update on the genre, the premise may have been more fully realized. In better circumstances, the friendship between the two characters, conflated with the inevitable father/son dynamic that develops, might operate as a hopeful ideological allegory (Pan’s Labyrinth comes to mind). By the end, though, the director’s ambivalence is overwhelming, obscuring an important story with undeniable modern parallels.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on September 18, 2013