Tradition battles ‘security’ in Israeli film

The stunning Israeli actress Hiam Abbass won her second Israeli Academy Award last year for “Lemon Tree,” a moving drama (just now going into U.S. release) that personalizes the terrible ongoing conflict between Palestinians and Jews in Israel.
Abbass won her first award from the Israeli Academy for “The Syrian Bride” five years ago. The actress also made a very strong impression in last year’s U.S. indie film “The Visitor,” as the Arab mother who came to this country to help a son victimized by the Homeland Security statutes.
“Lemon Tree” is about a Palestinian widow — tending to the lemon grove she was left by her father — who becomes embroiled in a legal drama after the Israeli Defense Minister moves into the house opposite the grove.
The security people for the politician decide the grove poses a terrorist threat — gunmen and bombers could easily hide there — and orders are issued to have the trees cut down.
Director Eran Riklis and co-writer Suha Arraf are clearly on the side of widow Salma Zidane but they don’t demonize the defense minister (played by Doron Tavory) or his family and associates.
The politician’s wife, Mira (Rona Lipaz-Michael), finds herself in the middle of a charged situation — aware of the dangers faced by her husband but moved by the plight of a neighbor she is not allowed to meet. It is to Riklis’s credit that we don’t get the sentimental resolution between Mira and Salma that would, no doubt, be the centerpiece of a Hollywood version of this story.
“Lemon Tree” expands to show us the unexpected attraction between Salma and the younger lawyer Abu Hassam (Tarik Kopty) who takes her case. Nothing other than a few charged glances and a kiss transpires between the lawyer and client, but the two actors allow us to feel a connection that isn’t made explicit in the dialogue.
“Lemon Tree” provides us with a bracing and thoughtful adult alternative to the summer cotton candy movies crowding the multiplexes at the moment.
(“Lemon Tree” is playing at the Avon Theatre Film Center in Stamford and the Bow Tie Criterion Cinemas in New Haven.)

Joe Meyers