Film Review: Zaytoun

Spirituality & Health Magazine
reviewed by Bilge Ebiri

Directed by Eran Riklis

In Israeli director Eran Riklis’s sensitive drama, Fahed (Abdallah El Akal), a tough young Palestinian boy living in war-torn Beirut in 1982, finds himself stuck with a downed Israeli pilot (Stephen Dorff, doing excellent work in an uncharacteristic role) held captive by the PLO. The pilot wants to escape, and Fahed agrees to help on condition that he help the boy find his home village in Palestine. Their ensuing journey to the border brings their differences into sharper relief. The soldier wants to return to his pregnant wife—he’s thinking about the future. The boy wants to find his ancestral home—he’s thinking about the past.

Needless to say, the initial tension gives way to a kind of mutual understanding and, on a simple level, an exchange of views, as the man begins to reflect on these warring peoples’ history and the boy begins to think about the future. Admittedly, this isn’t a particularly original story; you know pretty much where it’s heading right from the start. But director Riklis and screenwriter Nader Rizq have a feel for the different ways that people express their identity and for the ways that even the most sharply drawn ideological battle lines can shift under the power of human connection. Elegantly filmed, and making powerful use of landscape—fitting for a movie that’s about a violent conflict over land—Zaytoun is a beautiful, touching film about two hardened souls who need each other far more than they’re willing to let on. 

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