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Can a lemon ever just be a lemon?

lemon tree 2

In her last post, Kuhu talked about how she noticed the way some Israeli films she saw “[told] small, personal stories that were carefully imbricated in a culture of pervasive political strife.” Sometimes I wonder if Israeli films that are made (in part) for global consumption inevitably contain this dynamic in that it seems that any narrative film which depicts individuals associated with a particular national identity are always experienced as allegories. That is, an Israeli in a political film is always standing in for all Israelis and the larger political situation. In this way, the multifunctional roles of the characters in a film like Lemon Tree—as both metaphors of power relations and sincere figures within the diegetic narrative—always contain a central tension between the individual as a unique entity and the individual as a manifestation and representation of the larger political forces which he or she symbolizes. One of the most telling sequences of the film in representing this dynamic comes during the sequence in which Salma and her Lawyer Ziad call a press conference in order to get the media’s attention. While the scene may have in part been aiming for laughs through the reaction of her son who sees the report on television in Washington DC and the domestic dispute becomes an international story (and also for Israeli audiences whose own political comedy regularly mocks the way the conflict is depicted in the rest of the world), the scene also illustrates the process by which individual narratives become subsumed by the larger political narratives. While the act of calling the press conference is certainly in the individual’s interest, it also interpolates Salma’s story directly into the global political narrative. Her individual plight and her connection to the land are rendered into an allegory for the prefab story of the entire Palestinian people. Specifically we see the role the media plays in this process; how representing this story also risks the disappearance of the individual within the dominant narrative of her people. It is in the very act of representation—the act of articulation—that any nuance disappears and the individual becomes just one of many. With a generous reading one might say that Lemon Tree reflexively plays with this tension by depicting the very process by which individual narratives are forced into the service of simplistic and monolithic national narratives. By casting the leads of the film as females in two male-dominated cultures, the film especially stresses the pressures acting on the subjugated to align their stories with the dominant accounts. For Salma, one way this pressure is manifested is when she is told again and again to refuse the money for her land—a choice she might have made anyway, but now is merely read as complying with the will of the local political leaders. Her very personal choices, memories, and connection with the land are rendered through the larger political narrative. Similarly Mira’s entire life as the wife of a political figure is written in relation to the political narrative. When she attempts to rewrite the narrative through her own views and opinions, the film demonstrates the pressures she is forced to incur by the political forces. As Kuhu can testify, it seems Eran Riklis seems to be very insistant on a metaphorical reading. I think he is keenly aware that in telling a story like this one it may be hard to care about one lemon when the whole grove is rotting.