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in Filmmaking
on Apr 17, 2009

In the new issue of Filmmaker, out next week, I think Peter Bowen has the perfect take on Eran Riklis’s Lemon Tree: it’s an allegory. The question then becomes, what does Riklis do with the allegorical form to make it cinematically resonant and appropriate in dealing with the current state of affairs between Israel and Palestine?

Here’s a section from Bowen’s interview with Riklis:

Filmmaker: While Lemon Tree was based on a real story, the structure is so specific that it appears to be pure allegory.

Rikilis: Once I wrote the first few lines of the synopsis, I thought, “Oh my God, this is so symbolic and allegorical, it’s frightening.” I got the feeling I was doing something that I couldn’t get away with, but the trick is just not to be too conscious about it, to use allegory like a fairy tale. It gives you a foundation to rely on; then you do what you want. When I made my first short film, Easy Listening Blues, a 30-minute film about a pianist, I made a decision that the whole film would not have any close ups. And I learned a valuable lesson from that experience when I was in the editing room, and that was that I really missed those close ups.

Filmmaker: So I guess rules are meant to be broken.

Rikilis: Yes, and when I learned to break them, I learned how to be emotional in my films. For Israelis, that is really tough since we are emotional but we put on a façade that we don’t care about anything. And that is something that I have been struggling with. I am a mix of American, Brazilian, British and Israeli upbringing, and all that mixed together means with each film I learn to become more and more emotional. Everyone is looking for emotion — even sophisticated audiences.

Filmmaker: Political allegory can really fall on its face by seeming too simplistic. Have there been other directors who used allegory that you learned from?

Rikilis: My biggest influence was Jean Renoir, and Grand Illusion was an allegory with the Germans and French all in one place. And then you go through the films of the ’80s – The Year of Living Dangerously, Salvador, Missing. Costa Gavras is someone to look at. Lemon Tree has its roots in the political films of the ’70s and ’80s but then it is also different. It is really interested in the multi-layered elements — some might say too many elements. When I create my stories, I try to imagine all of my characters having lives, even a soldier up in the watchtower.

Lemon Tree opens today from IFC and screens both via On Demand and in New York at the IFC Center.

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