captured Israeli air force pilot and a Beirut street urchin have one thing in
common. They would both much rather be
in Israel. They just have different
names for it. Yes, the presumed enemies
will form a significant alliance in Eran Riklis’s Zaytoun (trailer
opens today in New York.
1982, the PLO capitalized on the civil war raging across Lebanon, using the
nearly failed state as a staging ground to launch rocket attacks into
Israel. Much to world’s shock and dismay,
Israel decided to defend herself. Unfortunately,
one pilot will be coming home the hard way. Shot down and captured, Yoni will be beaten
and tortured before the PLO trades him for a bulk quantity of their terrorists
imprisoned in Israel. Young Fahed is one
of his most rabid tormentors. A cigarette
hawker and occasional pupil of the PLO’s “terrorist school,” Fayed has bought
into the propaganda he has spent his life submersed in.
the call of his ancestral homeland and a filial obligation to plant his late
father’s olive tree sampling in said land compel Fahed to make a deal with
Yoni. He will help the battered and
bloodied pilot escape in exchange for entrée into Israel. Initially, they are still openly hostile to
each other, but an uneasy friendship develops as they work together to evade
the trigger-happy Syrians (yes, one can well imagine that would be a bonding
Zaytoun is the sort of movie where
the leads learn they are not so different from each other, but the supporting
characters all hail from central stereotype casting. Yet, despite the very
particular geo-political context, Zaytoun
is surprisingly even-handed.
Frankly, it does absolutely nothing to burnish the PLO’s image, mostly
portraying them as a band of thugs.
Granted, it never really explains the sort of onslaught Israel faced,
but the film would be better described as simplistic rather than didactic. Basically, Nader Rizq’s screenplay seems to
suggest even the gravest of enemies can find common ground if forced to schlep
an olive tree through an urban battlefield together.
non-Israeli Stephen Dorff is completely convincing as the gruff but sensitive
Yoni, looking a bit like Kiefer Sutherland in 24 (and that’s not a bad thing).
Likewise, Abdallah El Akal is also believably petulant as Fahed, nicely
conveying the stop-and-start maturation his character undergoes.
This is not the film that will turn the world’s
swords into ploughshares, but it works rather well on the micro-level because
the central relationship is so surprisingly compelling. Although it is not
nearly as moving as Riklis’s first-rate Human Resources Manager, it is about as good as peacenik cinema gets. Recommended for fans of Israeli cinema and
Dorff, Zaytoun opens today (9/20) in
New York at the Village East.
Labels: Eran Riklis, Israeli Cinema, Stephen Dorff