Editors' pick

Lemon Tree

Lemon Tree movie poster
MPAA rating: NR
Genre: Drama, Foreign
Based on the true story of a Palestinian widow who defends her lemon grove from an Israeli minister threatening to cut it all down.
Starring: Hiam Abass, Rona Lipaz Michael, Ali Suliman
Director: Eran Riklis
Running time: 1:46

Editorial Review

When Hiam Abbass, the star of the Israeli-made film "Lemon Tree," stares at the camera, there's an uncanny resemblance to the haggard but proud woman who appears in Dorothea Lange's iconic Dust Bowl photograph. Abbass plays Salma Zidane, a 45-year-old Palestinian woman desperately trying to hang on to the lemon grove her family has tended for decades. A rare smile or tear appears on her painfully severe face with the epic force of a hurricane. As she tells us, she has suffered a lot in her life: the loss of a husband, loneliness and, as director Eran Riklis subtly suggests, the double hardship of being a Palestinian among Israelis and a woman among Palestinians.

And now, with the Israeli defense minister moving in next door, Salma is about to lose her precious lemon grove, which is deemed a potential hiding place for terrorists. It is a beautiful spot, lovingly tended, a powerful bond to the land and a precious source of income for Salma. Even Mira (Rona Lipaz-Michael), the wife of the minister, considers the order to chop down the trees arbitrary. But the two women live in different worlds, and Mira's sympathy can do little to help Salma.

Based on a true story, "Lemon Tree" explores the painful human detail of life in a society warped by terrorism. Salma is arguing, vainly, with the legal and military power of a society that treats her as an enemy, and beneath contempt. But the defense minister claims to be powerless to change thousands of years of history.

Riklis has made a powerful film, but can a powerful film change anything about the fatalistic culture of powerlessness that is felt throughout Palestine and Israel? The irony of "Lemon Tree" is that what it achieves adds, in the end, to the sense that nothing can unravel this mess.

-- Philip Kennicott (May 1, 2009)

Contains little to upset or interest children. Mostly in Arabic and Hebrew, with English subtitles.