Lemon Tree: Interview with Eran Riklis

Lemon Tree won the Audience Award at the 2008 Berlin Film Fest. IFC is releasing the movie this month.

Q: When and how did the idea for Lemon Tree originate?

 

Riklis: Following the success of THE SYRIAN BRIDE I felt two things: one was that I want to direct Hiam Abbass again and give her a central role, two that I want to get “closer to home” in dealing with the situation in the Middle East, i.e. move from the relative comfort of the Golan Heights to the explosive situation between Israel and the Palestinians. So I started looking for a story and came across several accounts of Palestinians going to court against the state of Israel. I found this intriguing on several levels. First of all the fact that the Palestinians can go all the way to the Supreme Court says something good about the Israeli justice system. Secondly, despite this system (and disregarding the various court decisions at the end of the process) there is a deep sense of injustice and more so of numbness which is a result of so many years of the occupation. Bad things happen on both sides, there is no black and white but a story about trees becoming a threat to national security just because they happen to be close to the house of the person who is charge of that security – seemed to me like the perfect set up for what I want to tell. And the fact that thousands of stories like this one happened and will probably happen in the future, made my decision even more poignant. Like one of the characters in the film says: “Lemon Trees… a Defense Minister, a lethal combination.”

 

Q: Is Lemon Tree a Political Film?

 

R: I don’t believe in the term and find it outdated. Everything is political in this day and age and whatever you say, do or think has some kind of political impact or feedback. Decisions taken by distant policy makers have an immediate effect on people everywhere, in particular when you live in a “danger zone” like the Middle East – but also if you live in New York, Paris or Berlin for that matter. So Lemon Tree is not political – it is about people trapped in a political deadlock. The Defense Minister, his wife, Salma, her lawyer – they are all trapped within their own life, within their own personal and public situation and frame of mind. It is not political because it does not try to impose any view on you – it tells a story, it shows emotions, it glides through a complex, delicate situation in an explosive setting. And I emphasis the word story as above all I wanted to tell a moving story that would be accessible to a wide audience around the world.

 

Q: Working with the Actors and Crew.

 

R: I want to start with Rainer Klausmann, a great DoP and a great guy. It was our first collaboration and quite quickly we understood that we are making an honest, eye level film and are not judging anyone. LEMON TREE is a very much a result of this view that we shared. Rainer is Swiss, he brought with him three

German crew members who joined an all Israeli crew, my co-producers–Bettina, Michael and Antoine–are German and French (second collaboration between us after THE SYRIAN BRIDE), my co-writer Suha is Israeli-Palestinian, my actors are Israeli, Israeli-Palestinian, Palestinian – and they are all people who shared one wish – to make this story work. Now about my actors: Hiam is like a part of me and I hope I was a part of her, I’m sure I was. Actors and directors have to be one to reach the level of intensity, vulnerability and frankness needed to convey a believable and moving situation. And this applies to all the others too – Rona, Ali, Doron, Tarik and all the rest of the wonderful cast which allowed me to share with them being at once a Minister, a lawyer, a peasant or a lonely soldier in a watchtower overlooking the lemon grove.

 

Q: Will Lemon Tree Change the World?

 

R: For sure, can’t you feel it? But like the song says – lemons are pretty but they are also impossible to eat… and so I guess I will be satisfied with just adding my modest contribution to the way people view things, possibly breaking some stereotypes and giving some food for thought.