Sunday, March 4, 2012

Might Makes Right

Lemon Tree debuted as a feature film in Israel in 2008 and was "a flop" according to writer/director Eran Riklis (at right, below, working with his German cinematographer Rainer Klausmann). It did much better in Europe, won some prizes, and is now a staple on the international DVD/streaming market.

Personally, I approached it with some skepticism, simply because the poisonous politics of the Middle East seem like one huge swamp of quicksand in which any hope of art is pretty certain to sink rapidly out of sight, weighed down by special pleading and ideology.

For me, the film was saved by its two female stars, Rona Lipaz-Michael (above) and Hiam Abbass (below). They are neighbors who change each others' lives dramatically, yet never exchange a word. Among the many things they don't share is a common language.

All that passes between them is communicated with looks, which must pass through literal boundary fences that keep them apart. At various points in the movie each attempts to push through or climb over or otherwise defy these fences. Both women mean well, both are brave, both are strong, and both fail equally to alter a conflict that they continue refusing to accept.

They resist rhetoric. The rhetoric of politics, the rhetoric of law, the rhetoric of the press, the rhetoric of military necessity are pretty well unilaterally deployed in Israel (just as the U.S.) to justify power, and power resides almost entirely in the hands of men.

The Palestinian lawyer (Ali Suliman, above) and the Israeli politician (Doron Tavory, below) are backed up by legions of minor male characters who all gain in some way or another by consenting to participate, to deploy the prevailing forms of public rhetoric. For the women, these same attempts can only backfire.

In every practical sense both women are left with less at the end of the story then they had at the beginning. "I guess only in American movies do you get a happy ending," quips the lawyer after the Israeli Supreme Court has weighed in to affirm that might makes right.

La raison du plus fort est toujours la meilleure :
Nous l'allons montrer tout à l'heure.

I learned this couplet of La Fontaine in high school French class and have never yet come across a situation in public life where it failed to prove accurate. It comes from the fable of The Wolf and the Lamb