Director: Eran Riklis
Screenwriter: Jader Rizq
Cast: Stephen Dorff, Abdallah El Akal, Alice Taglioni, Loai Nofi, Ali Suliman, Ashraf Barhom
Screened at: Review 2, NYC, 9/3/13
Opens: September 20, 2013
The family that pees together, stays together, or at least that’s what the two lead persons in Eran Riklis’s “Zaytoun” have demonstrated. Though the family in this case is just two people and only distant cousins, when they simultaneously water the dry landscape in the sticks of Lebanon, their bonding is assured.
The film features a remarkable performance from the fifteen-year-old Abdalla El Akal as Fahed a twelve-year-old Palestinian refugee in an unhappy camp in Lebanon. The young man, who recently won Best Lead Actor in the movie “David & Kamal” at the Brasov International Film Festival in Romania, performs in the role of a kid who understandably dislikes living in a camp and wanders outside the boundaries to sell gum. More likely than make sales, however, he is kicked around by Lebanese citizens who call him a dirty Palestinian, a punishment that makes credible his turnaround on a fateful day in 1982 when an Israeli jet is shot down and its pilot, Yoni (Stephen Dorff), is captured and imprisoned as the enemy hopes to exchange him for “1000 Arab prisoners in Israel.”
When the unfortunate soldier, cuffed on the hands and feet, is freed by the kid with the soldier’s promise to allow him to return his former Palestinian home, Fahed, hostile at first to “ the enemy,” is hooked. Never mind that he looks too street-wise to believe the soldier and that, while only occasionally attending school, is able to speak fluent English. (Most of the movie is in the English language with a smattering of Arabic and Hebrew.)
The story becomes a road-and-buddy movie with a wholly predicable ending, though the road trip, which takes place in a taxi and a jeep among other vehicles might cause some in the audience to wonder “Are we there yet?” The two must go through mine fields and checkpoints to escape to the border—where the soldier naturally wants to go—but the real story might be called a fable with human beings taking the place of the lion and the lamb that sleep peacefully together.
The film was shot in Haifa and its outskirts taking the place of Lebanon and Northern Israel, looking nothing like Israel’s leading seaport metropolis. In what is basically a two-hander, the sentiment’s as thick as a jar of molasses, focusing on the kid’s intention to plant an olive tree just outside his previous Palestinian home. (“Zaytoun” means “olive.”) Is it too much to ask Bibi Netanyahu and Abu Mazen to come to the kind of agreement that binds Fahed and Yoni? Yeah, probably, but as Alexander Pope tells us in his Essay on Man, “Hope springs eternal in the human breast.”
Unrated. 107 minutes © 2013 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online
Story – B-
Acting – B+
Technical – B
Overall – B