February 8, 2008 / 5:33 PM / 10 years ago

"Lemon Tree" offers new look to Mideast conflict

BERLIN (Reuters) - Boiling the complexities of the Middle East down into a 106-minute film about a Palestinian woman’s lemon trees and tensions arising when Israel’s defense minister moves next door risk over-simplifying the issues.

But Israeli director Eran Riklis has delivered a stirring fictional story, “Lemon Tree,” that is in many ways a microcosm of the struggles between Israelis and Palestinians — a dispute about land, security, fears and displacement.

“It’s a film about people who are trapped in a political situation,” said Riklis after the contemporary film, based loosely on true stories with a cast of Israeli and Palestinians, made its world premiere at the Berlin Film Festival on Friday.

“It’s a film for all audiences.”

A Palestinian woman has long been peacefully tending the lemon tree grove she inherited from her father on the Green Line that separates Israel and the occupied West Bank.

But she faces eviction and the removal of the trees so lovingly cared for over many decades when the Israeli defense minister moves in next door — and the lemon tree grove is deemed to be a security threat.

She challenges the security order in court, taking her fight all the way to Israel’s high court.

The Israeli defense minister’s fears that an attack against him could come from the grove might seem absurd, but the film portrays in a balanced fashion the ever-present threat. Yet his wife views the security measures as exaggerated.

“I think people want to go beyond the news headlines and see into the psyche of the people,” said Riklis, whose 2004 film “The Syrian Bride” was an international hit. “We tried to make a film showing the point of view from the humans on both sides.”

Riklis said he had read recent accounts of Palestinians going to court against Israel, which he found intriguing. He said he thought that was a tribute to the Israeli justice system and developed the “Lemon Tree,” which he also wrote, around it.

“It does not try to impose any view on you,” he said. “It’s about people trapped in a deadlock. It tells a story, shows you emotions and glides through a complex, delicate situation in an explosive setting.”

Riklis said “The Syrian Bride” was a success in Israel and elsewhere, and he is optimistic “Lemon Tree” will have an even better box office performance.

“To use an American term, it’s a ‘feel-good movie’,” he said. “Maybe it’s not a happy ending. But anyone walking out afterwards will have a smile and sense of learning something. This film will have a wide release wherever it goes.”

Editing by Paul Casciato

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