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Fiver Years Hence: Watching and Rewatching Eran Riklis’s “Lemon Tree”


Eran Riklis’s 2008 film Etz Lemon (Lemon Tree) seemed to me, at first, a fairly tangential fit into Cinematheque’s Food and Feast series, but as I went back to an interview with Riklis, I noticed his insistent attachment to the metaphor of the lemons to tell his story, and it seemed to be an entry-point to watch an overtly political film in a food and feast series. I first watched Lemon Tree at a film festival in New Delhi in 2008. The festival had a section dedicated to films from Israel and Palestine, and was showing films like Ari Folman’s Waltz With Bashir and Eran Kolirin’s hilarious comedy The Band’s Visit, among others. I was struck by the fact that a majority of Israeli films were deeply critical of Israel’s occupation of Palestine and had found evocative ways of telling small, personal stories that were carefully imbricated in a culture of pervasive political strife. I was one of many who were moved by the simplicity of Riklis’s story and overwhelmed by the performance of Hiam Abbas as Salma Zidane. I was also impressed by the metaphoric power of the film and its ability to channel a tense political issue fairly effortlessly. Watching the film again this year, five years hence, the experience was surprisingly different. Its politics seemed not just simple, but perhaps a little simplistic. I suspect a particular reading (and indeed staging) of its metaphors is central to reducing the film about the visible politics of Israel and Palestine. The more I think about this film, however, the less it seems about current political climate alone, but rather about history, which is ultimately the battleground of any political issue. Salma’s relationship to the lemon grove is not as a “this land is mine” claim, as much as it is a landscape of memories and a struggle to hold on to a personal history. And yet, the tragedy of the film lies in the impossibility of separating the political from the personal.