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RS Throws a “Lemon” Party!

RS Throws a "Lemon" Party!

This week, two takes on Eran Riklis’s Lemon Tree:

First, Ohad Landesman at Reverse Shot:

Israeli filmmaker Eran Riklis has been making films since the Eighties, but it was with his emotional 2004 family drama The Syrian Bride, which fully realized, in both a comic and tragic manner, the absurdity of the political relationship between Syria and Israel, that I first began to respect and admire him. In telling its story of the wedding day of Mona, a young Druze woman about to marry a Syrian television star she has never met and move to Syria, from where she can never return, Riklis cleverly and compassionately turned the act of crossing borders into a metaphor for confrontation of psychological boundaries. Characters in The Syrian Bride become hopelessly “stuck” in a geographical no man’s land in which they cannot easily respond to the situation they are facing.

Five years later, with Lemon Tree Riklis aspires slightly higher, focusing on a practical deadlock in another geographical twilight zone: a fight over a lemon tree grove placed on the green line border between Israel and the Occupied Territories. Here, he wants to use the story as a political allegory not only for the conflicted personal lives of the characters but also for the chaotic ongoing struggle in the Middle East. The dramatic treatment of this metaphor, however, even if at times quite effective, also feels schematic and redundant, reminiscent of the crudely overstated and overloaded Israeli political films of the 1980s. This comes as a surprise to me, especially since Riklis’s own Cup Final (1991) may very well be the film that marked the end of that era, and the beginning of a new wave in Israeli cinema, characterized by refined aesthetics and narrative subtlety.

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Then, Jeff Reichert at indieWIRE:

By now the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and its myriad resultant inequities, is believed in most quarters to be nearly intractably complex. Given this, it’s only natural that we’ll have filmmakers like Eran Riklis, intent on compressing matters down into easily understandable, overlapping narrative strands that feint at post-Bush intricacy, all while not terribly covertly reintroducing tried-and-true good/bad schematics. Thankfully a few storylines short of the Haggis-esque, Lemon Tree is still hobbled by hewing too closely to that turgid dramatic playbook requiring unlikely love affairs (and attendant complications), tantalizingly incomplete arcs, and awkward character mirroring, all leaning on an edifice of shaky, opportunistic incidence. In short: mainstream storytelling.

That said, it’s hard to fault Lemon Tree too much for trying to get a handle on the ongoing conflicts—its heart is certainly in the right place—even if it does overly clutter what might have been a sturdy missive from a region sorely lacking in multifacted cinematic representations. Lemon Tree is far from the grossly reductive borderline atrocity of Crossing Over (big-budget American cinema still retains its stranglehold on the politically reductive), but it doesn’t approach the more intriguing open-ended querying of Avi Mograbi’s Avenge but One of My Two Eyes or the wide-eyed peace-mongering of B.Z. Goldberg, Carlos Bolado, and Justine Shapiro’s Promises, either. Of course, holding a fiction feature up against two solid documentaries that sensitively probe similar ideas may be somewhat unfair, but it only illuminates the degree to which natural drama can (though need not always) be ill-served by layers of goopy artifice.

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