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London Film Festival Preview: Zaytoun
Basia Lewandowska Cummings , October 12th, 2012 04:48

Basia Lewandowska Cummings watches Eran Riklis' war-torn buddy movie, screening at the 56th London Film Festival

Riding a credibility upswing since appearing in Sofia Coppola's Somewhere, Stephen Dorff is making a steady transition into 'serious cinema'. However, his latest feature is a miscasting in this regard. Dorff plays Yoni, an Israeli pilot dropping bombs on Beirut in 1982. Below, the streets are turning into rubble and Palestinian refugees venture into the city from the guarded camps on its outskirts. Among them is Fahed, a sharp boy who joins the militia after his father is killed by the aerial bombardment. He's enlisted to guard Yoni after the pilot is captured, but Fahed eventually frees the prisoner and asks to be taken back to his former village (now part of Israel) so that he can replant his father's olive tree. Along the way, on this contrived road trip - a blunt vehicle (literally) in which they can overcome an ingrained mistrust – the pair become friends, attached by their desire to return home.

Israeli director Eran Riklis regards Zaytoun as part of his 'Middle East cycle', following The Syrian Bride (2004) and Lemon Tree (2008). It's a stock Hollywood narrative dressed up as a 'humanity overcomes all' drama, and wrung like a damp cloth of any politics. Where one imagines Riklis envisioned this as refreshing, he in fact delivers a weak story about cross-cultural friendship. That said, there are parts which work and Abdallah El Akal is impressive as the fiery Fahed. A scene where he unwittingly plays football on a minefield is tense and well shot, building a kind of tectonic danger that is embedded in every corner of the youngster's world. There are moments of comedy too, executed with a skilled lightness, but too often the film reverts back to an easy, saccharine redemption.