Reviews - Specialty Releases


Film Review: Zaytoun

Middle East conflict becomes a feel-good buddy movie.

Sept 19, 2013

-By Stephen Dalton


filmjournal/photos/stylus/1385508-Zaytoun_Md.jpg

For movie details, please click here.

A proud Palestinian refugee and an Israeli air force pilot form an unlikely bond in this unusual buddy movie, which begins in the war-torn streets of Beirut in 1982. With this feel-good paean to multicultural friendship, Eran Riklis, the Israeli-born director of The Syrian Bride and Lemon Tree, is holding out another olive branch to Israel’s Arab enemies—literally, since “zaytoun” is the Arabic word for olive, and also the name of a Palestinian charity organization.

This polished U.K.-Israeli co-production is history as wish fulfillment: politically sanitized and tastefully shot, even the harrowing scenes of summary executions and snipers shooting children in the street. The film’s facile message of cross-cultural unity owes more to fairytale than reality, but the action is slick and the story gripping. Appealing to audiences with an interest in Middle Eastern history, but also simple and universal enough to serve as a straight wartime thriller, box-office potential looks fairly healthy.

The 14-year-old Abdallah El Akal gives a compelling star performance as Fahed, a Palestinian street vendor living in a refugee ghetto in Beirut. Enjoying a credibility upswing following his role in Sofia Coppola's Somewhere, Stephen Dorff proves persuasively flinty, despite a wobbly accent, as Israeli jet pilot Yoni, shot down over the city and held captive by PLO militants. Fahed and his friends are left to guard this valuable prisoner, exchanging bitter insults and occasional bursts of violence. But Yoni gradually comes to view Fahed as a means of possible escape, tempting the newly orphaned teenager with the promise of a pilgrimage to his family’s former home village inside Israel.

Agreeing to a grudging pact of mutual cooperation, Fahed and Yoni flee Beirut and spend a fraught few days rushing to the border, dodging armed Palestinian guerrillas, Lebanese police, border guards and snipers along the way. Here Riklis proves his mettle as a competent action director, shooting a series of near-misses and car chases against a gorgeous backdrop of sun-baked hills and rugged coastline. A farcical encounter with a disco-loving taxi driver also provides a welcome note of absurd comedy.

Full of two-dimensional caricatures and nail-biting close shaves, Zaytoun functions best as an action-heavy road movie. In its calmer latter stages, the film’s innate sentimentality begins to grate as Fahed and Yoni form a father-son bond that magically washes away all cultural differences and historical grievances. The implied message, that murderous political conflicts like that between Israel and Palestine can be solved by individual friendship, is risibly simplistic.

All the same, Riklis has made a warm-hearted and well-intentioned movie that will appeal to audiences of all ages, particularly those with no direct investment in either side of this ongoing conflict. The director also drops a few darkly ironic hints for anyone familiar with Middle Eastern history. The notorious Sabra and Shatila massacre of Palestinian refugees in Beirut, as memorialized in Ari Folman’s Waltz with Bashir, occurred soon after the events depicted here and are subtly foreshadowed in the final scene. Films can be sweet fairytales, Riklis seems to acknowledge, but real life leaves a much more bitter taste.
The Hollywood Reporter


Film Review: Zaytoun

Middle East conflict becomes a feel-good buddy movie.

Sept 19, 2013

-By Stephen Dalton


filmjournal/photos/stylus/1385508-Zaytoun_Md.jpg

For movie details, please click here.

A proud Palestinian refugee and an Israeli air force pilot form an unlikely bond in this unusual buddy movie, which begins in the war-torn streets of Beirut in 1982. With this feel-good paean to multicultural friendship, Eran Riklis, the Israeli-born director of The Syrian Bride and Lemon Tree, is holding out another olive branch to Israel’s Arab enemies—literally, since “zaytoun” is the Arabic word for olive, and also the name of a Palestinian charity organization.

This polished U.K.-Israeli co-production is history as wish fulfillment: politically sanitized and tastefully shot, even the harrowing scenes of summary executions and snipers shooting children in the street. The film’s facile message of cross-cultural unity owes more to fairytale than reality, but the action is slick and the story gripping. Appealing to audiences with an interest in Middle Eastern history, but also simple and universal enough to serve as a straight wartime thriller, box-office potential looks fairly healthy.

The 14-year-old Abdallah El Akal gives a compelling star performance as Fahed, a Palestinian street vendor living in a refugee ghetto in Beirut. Enjoying a credibility upswing following his role in Sofia Coppola's Somewhere, Stephen Dorff proves persuasively flinty, despite a wobbly accent, as Israeli jet pilot Yoni, shot down over the city and held captive by PLO militants. Fahed and his friends are left to guard this valuable prisoner, exchanging bitter insults and occasional bursts of violence. But Yoni gradually comes to view Fahed as a means of possible escape, tempting the newly orphaned teenager with the promise of a pilgrimage to his family’s former home village inside Israel.

Agreeing to a grudging pact of mutual cooperation, Fahed and Yoni flee Beirut and spend a fraught few days rushing to the border, dodging armed Palestinian guerrillas, Lebanese police, border guards and snipers along the way. Here Riklis proves his mettle as a competent action director, shooting a series of near-misses and car chases against a gorgeous backdrop of sun-baked hills and rugged coastline. A farcical encounter with a disco-loving taxi driver also provides a welcome note of absurd comedy.

Full of two-dimensional caricatures and nail-biting close shaves, Zaytoun functions best as an action-heavy road movie. In its calmer latter stages, the film’s innate sentimentality begins to grate as Fahed and Yoni form a father-son bond that magically washes away all cultural differences and historical grievances. The implied message, that murderous political conflicts like that between Israel and Palestine can be solved by individual friendship, is risibly simplistic.

All the same, Riklis has made a warm-hearted and well-intentioned movie that will appeal to audiences of all ages, particularly those with no direct investment in either side of this ongoing conflict. The director also drops a few darkly ironic hints for anyone familiar with Middle Eastern history. The notorious Sabra and Shatila massacre of Palestinian refugees in Beirut, as memorialized in Ari Folman’s Waltz with Bashir, occurred soon after the events depicted here and are subtly foreshadowed in the final scene. Films can be sweet fairytales, Riklis seems to acknowledge, but real life leaves a much more bitter taste.
The Hollywood Reporter
Post a Comment
Asterisk (*) is a required field.
* Author: 
Rate This Article: (1=Bad, 5=Perfect)

*Comment:
 

More Specialty Releases

Amira & Sam
Film Review: Amira & Sam

A potentially intriguing interracial love story between an ex-soldier and Middle Eastern lass feels much too forced and contrived. More »

The Devils Violinist
Film Review: The Devil's Violinist

The latest classical-music legend to have his life trashed–again—by a cheaply sensationalistic movie, this famed fiddler deserved way better. More »

Backstreet Boys
Film Review: Backstreet Boys: Show 'Em What You're Made Of

The ’90s boy band dusts itself off for a self-congratulatory, and not especially revelatory, career retrospective on the occasion of their 20th anniversary tour. More »

Oscar Nominated Documentary Shorts 2015
Film Review: The Oscar Nominated Short Films 2015: Documentary

The long shadow and in-your-face reality of mortality shadows nearly all the entries in this year’s powerful, draining Oscar-nominated documentary short films program. More »

ADVERTISEMENT



REVIEWS

Project Almanac
Film Review: Project Almanac

Saying this underbaked Chronicle knockoff is meant for teenagers is an insult to the intelligence of teenagers everywhere. More »

The Wedding Ringer
Film Review: The Wedding Ringer

Intermittently amusing bro-comedy trifle that confirms Kevin Hart's talent, though not his taste in material. More »

Player for the Film Journal International website.


ADVERTISEMENT



INDUSTRY GUIDES

» Blue Sheets
FJI's guide to upcoming movie releases, including films in production and development. Check back weekly for the latest additions.

» Distribution Guide
» Equipment Guide
» Exhibition Guide

ORDER A PRINT SUBSCRIPTION

Film Journal International

Subscribe to the monthly print edition of Film Journal International and get the full visual impact of this valuable resource for the cinema business.

» Click Here

SPONSORSHIP OPPORTUNITIES

Learn how to promote your company at the Film Expo Group events: ShowEast, CineEurope, and CineAsia.

» Click Here