56th BFI London Film Festival: Zaytoun Review

After directing Lemon Tree and The Syrian BrideEran Riklis decided on making another film, setting its action in the Middle East again. Zaytoun is a story of an unlikely road trip and, against all odds, friendship between an Israeli pilot and a Palestinian boy.

1982 Lebanon, as the tension between Israel and Lebanon grows (6 June 1982 Israeli Defense Forces invaded, already torn by a civil war city, Southern Lebanon) Palestinian refugees keep causing the Lebanese Government more problems. In the Palestinian camp we meet a group of young boys, full of life, funny and stupidly brave at times. One of the boys is Fahed (Abdallah El Akal: David & Kamal, The Attack) an audacious and confident teenager who constantly annoys the Lebanese border patrol, and who is desperately longing for his home, Palestine. He also takes part in a military training  run by the Palestinian Soldiers. One day, while Fahed and his friends are in the military camp, an Israeli plane is shot down and the pilot, Yoni (a solid performance by Stephen Dorff: Felon, Public Enemies) is captured. Fahed is put in charge of looking after the man, the boy finds a great pleasure in playing around with Yoni, he even shoots him in the bottom.

A few days into Yoni’s imprisonment the pilot asks Fahed to free him. After a long reflection, the boy agrees to help the captive Israeli soldier escape on the promise Yoni helps to take him to the place that both of them think as home. They escape and begin their unforgettable journey towards the Israeli border. Their friendship flourishes and they start to ‘grow’ on each other. Yoni and the boy finally get to their destination. However, there is one more problem ahead of them: will the Israelis let Fahed stay or will they send him back to his grandfather in a war torn Lebanon? 

The film is set against stunning desert landscapes. I absolutely loved the cinematography by Dan Laustsen. Dorff’s portrayal of Yoni was excellent. Even with his weird accent I found his performance to be compelling and heartwarming. Abdallah’s acting was superb. He is a young actor and already very talented. I really like the way he characterized Fahed. Such an emotional and brave performance. Also Fahed’s grandfather’s (Tarik Kopty: Lemon Tree) character was wonderful: stoic and amicable. The film was very good, the subject of the unusual companionship was beautifully captured. It made me think that the protagonists’ brief friendship was kind of a temporary truce between Israel and Palestine. Perhaps my thinking is too utopian but I’d like to believe in it. Zaytoun had its world premiere at the  Toronto International Film Festival 2012 and it was positively received.

Written by Maggie Gogler

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