This Israeli/Palestinian drama is thoughtfully understated as it balances the personal with the political.
The provocative Lemon Tree (in Arabic with English subtitles) may be simplistic in its characterizations and aspects of its plotting. Yet, it is directed with a steely realism and some ironic wit by Eran Riklis who gets a remarkable performance from Hiam Abbass.
Abbass is Palestinian widow Salma who finds the pleasantries of life through a lemon orchard which has been part of her family for half a century. Salma's quiet existence is disrupted as new Israeli Defense Minister (Doron Tavory) becomes a neighbor. His edgy security personnel thinks the orchard could attract terrorism. The yarn becomes more involving as Salma stands up to the military and hires an attorney (Ali Suliman) to bring a case against the government.
The filmmakers give the actors, especially Abbass, the latitude they need to make the issues viable without being officious. An askew lightness to the storytelling keeps things from getting too sobering, even in the cogent examination of Salma's seemingly powerless milieu.
The mighty Abbass delivers in a role that requires perserverance and dignity for civil rights under a ruthless society while there is much pressure in meeting the needs of one's customs and heritage. Ultimately, the case becomes more widely known, and Lemon Tree becomes more inspiring and riveting because of how it refuses to be anything less than character-driven.
Within a "critical condition" a sense of injustice is more than palpable as someone like Jimmy Carter can understand the thin line between love and hate here. It must be said that Abbass is quite effective with an engaging Suliman in a series of scenes that are subtle and moving. Also, a feminist streak is evident with Rona Lipaz-Michael offering much in the visage category as the Israel minister's wife as one could only wish that the right kind of interaction between them would lead to something more than their mutual affection for the trees.
Riklis depicts the events with sense into the military logistics of the Israeli/Palestinian strife without too much grit and finds a certain grace under the albatross of being impugned and desiring the most from a terrible situation.