An unlikely friendship takes place in the Lemon Tree, a drama set along the border of Israel and the West Bank. Salma (Hiam Abbass) is a Palestinian woman who lives at the boundary of the two regions, and she finds that her beloved lemon trees are in danger of being taken away at the request of her new neighbor, the Israeli defence minster. As Salma takes her fight to Israel’s highest court, she also develops a friendship with the government official’s frustrated wife.
Centuries-old conflict in the Middle East is rendered in simple human terms in this poignant, affecting tale involving a Palestinian widow, the Israeli Defence Minister and his seemingly privileged wife, and a patch of land on which a lemon grove has stood for more than 50 years.
Israeli filmmaker Eran Riklis’ Lemon Tree deals with the complex web of Israeli politics and Palestinian rights, as well as the themes of loneliness and female solidarity in the most unlikely circumstances. Hiam Abbass plays Salma Zidane, who scratches out a living from the lemon grove adjoining her house which straddles the Green Line separating Israel from the occupied territories of the West Bank. Her husband died 10 years ago and her son is living in Washington. Her solitary life is turned upside down when the Israeli Defence Minister Israel Navon (Doron Tavory) moves into a posh new house next door, and his security advisers recommend the lemon grove be destroyed lest it be used by terrorists.
Vowing 'I won’t let them touch my trees," Salma enlists the aid of handsome young Palestinian lawyer Ziad Daud (Ali Suliman) to try to overturn the order. When their appeal to the military court is rejected, they take the case to the Supreme Court, and a sympathetic journalist takes up their cause. Despite the disapproval of her conservative Palestinian neighbour, romance starts to blossom between the strikingly beautiful Salma and the divorced lawyer. Meanwhile, Salma discovers she has much in common with Navon’s gorgeous wife Mira (Rona Lipaz-Michael), whose husband is cheating on her and whose daughter is in the US. Both women are lonely and unfulfilled.
Fittingly for events in that troubled part of the world, the film’s resolution is a compromise where there are no real winners. Abbass, whose US films include The Visitor and Munich, is magnificent as Salma, displaying a quiet intensity, dignity and grim resolve as she stands up to the Israeli government. The relationship between Salma and Ziad is played out beautifully.
The screenplay by Riklis and Suha Arraf, the Palestinian-Israeli woman who co-wrote his previous film The Syrian Bride, is leavened with unexpected humour, much of it stemming from an amusing psychometric test which a guard in a sentry box takes each day. Minimal extras comprise select scenes and trailers.