Posted October 9, 2012 by Alex Moss Editor in Films
 
 

Zaytoun


The buddy sub-genre of films is normally reserved for action comedies or just straight up comedy.

The buddy sub-genre of films
is normally reserved for action comedies or just straight up comedy.
The likes of Lethal
Weapon
, Butch Cassidy And The
Sundance Kid
and The Odd Couple
all have a definite level of humour about them. Zaytoun is unequivocally a buddy movie but given its setting
in 1982 Lebanon, just prior to Israel’s invasion of the country, it would be
fair to suggest comedy is not on the agenda. There are moments of humour but it’s more interested in
exploring how two people from opposite sides of the battlefield are thrown
together and form a friendship that changes both their lives.

Fahed
(Abdallah El Akal) is a young
Palestinian refugee living in Beirut’s Shatila refugee camp. His days are spent selling cigarettes,
dodging bullets and learning how to fight, his nights are spent sheltering from
Israeli air raids. When he witnesses
his father killed in an Israeli bombing, he is determined to return his
father’s olive tree to their stolen home in Palestine. But when his Palestine Liberation
Organisation unit capture downed Israeli fighter pilot Yoni (Stephen Dorff), Fahed sees an
opportunity. Helping Yoni to
escape, the pair form a fractious relationship, with Yoni sporting a bullet in
the leg thanks to Fahed’s aggressive side, as they make for the Israeli
border. But with the local militia
not far behind them can the pair learn to trust each other and reach safety?

Perhaps
the smartest thing about Zaytoun is that, despite the political backdrop and
impending war, it is hugely uplifting film. At first Fahed is all too happy to wave a gun in Yoni’s face
and even when they’re on the road together their relationship is always
bordering on fractious. But
watching the pair develop a bond that transcends their ‘enemies’ label is
hugely rewarding.

Dorff
and El Akal’s chemistry is undeniable.
The pair have moments of genuine warmth mixed with a degree of mistrust
that only vanishes towards the end of the second act. Their performances are both spot on. Dorff is undoubtedly breaking free of
his straight-to-DVD persona of recent years, perfectly honing the Israeli
accent and bringing just the right level of gruff anger to proceedings. It seems that Sofia Coppola’s Somewhere
was a catalyst for Dorff’s flexing acting talents. El Akal is a revelation. His Fahed is a cocky and unpleasant character when we first
meet him. It’s only when the bombs
start falling and the chips are really down that we see the scared child. His performance is reminiscent of a
number of the brilliant actors in Brazilian gangster classic City Of God. That level of wise beyond his years combined with enough
childish mannerism to never let you forget his tender age. When El Akal and Dorff bond the film is
at it’s strongest.

Like
the relationship between the two protagonists, director Eran Riklis makes solid
juxtaposing use of the locations.
The tragic war torn country is at moments staggeringly beautiful;
rolling hills and almost heavenly landscapes. And then the reality of the war in Lebanon can come to the
fore with a graveyard of military vehicles or a refugee camp with schools
riddled with bullet holes. If
anything you feel Riklis is as times sugar-coating the more hostile side of the
conflict. Only fleetingly at the
beginning do we see the horrors of the war and thereafter it is only ever seen
as a backdrop to Yoni and Fahed’s odyssey across the country.

The
film does drag towards the end.
Having accompanied Yoni and Fahed on their journey you’re left feeling
somewhat bemused by writer Nader Rizq’s
insistence to have not one but four different endings. When a story comes to a natural
conclusion it is frustrating to then be presented with another half an hour of
plot which adds little to the overall feeling of the piece.

Often
uplifting but with a definite bittersweet climax (the film ends just before the
Israeli invasion of Lebanon and mere months before the Sabra and Shatila
massacres where the Israeli Defence Force was complicit in the murders of up to
3500 civilian men, women and children), Zaytoun is a buddy movie with a
difference which is held together by solid onscreen chemistry between Dorff and
El Akal.


Alex Moss Editor

 
Alex Moss’ obsession with film began the moment he witnessed the Alien burst forth from John Hurt’s stomach. It was perhaps ill-advised to witness this aged 6 but much like the beast within Hurt, he became infected by a parasite called ‘Movies’. Rarely away from his computer or a big screen, as he muses on Cinematic Deities, Alex is “more machine now than man. His mind is twisted and evil”. Email: alex.moss@filmjuice.com