Reviewed by: Sophie Monks Kaufman

Beirut, Lebanon, 1982... In a Palestinian refugee camp, Fahed’s innocence has been carved out of him by conflict. At school, framed photos of dead classmates lean against cans of withered flowers. Sadness stabs, but there’s no time to wallow as the muscular narrative has big plans for its future.

Fahed lives in a dusty and close-knit community with his father, grandfather and peers who might as well be brothers. Tragedy comes knocking, meaning that when Yoni, an Israeli fighter pilot, is shot out of the sky and banged up in the ‘Palestinian Plaza Hotel’ (as dubbed by locals), his presence is a physical realisation of everything Fahed wants to avenge.

Abdallah El Akal channels an unsettling amount of loathing. His small size and lack of status are perhaps all that save Yoni from torture. Meanwhile, Stephen Dorff, with a passable Israeli accent, plays the pilot with a brutish power that undercuts the sympathy he might otherwise engender. For a while, the pair linger in a state of suspended adversarial animation, one behind bars, the other relishing this fact.

During this phase, a wise and astonishingly sad sequence takes place. Distant mournful singing, a mother’s tears, Yoni’s anguished eyes and Fahed staring disconsolately at the night sky create the sense that in war both sides are trapped in a nightmare.

Meditative groundwork laid, Riklis changes pace. Fahed and Yoni make a deal and an action-packed odd-couple road-movie revs its engine. The trials the pair face as they dodge trigger-happy officials are as relentless as in a computer-game city. The camera glides around deserts and dusty roads, always one step ahead, like a predator.

A very dry gallows humour has always pulsed beneath the surface but the introduction of an unflappable cab driver is the conduit for it to come gushing forth in relief-making waves. After a woman is mercilessly shot in the street, the cabbie says offhandedly, “They kill everybody here. Welcome to my route.” A Bee Gees classic comes on the radio plumped up with such morbid significance, you can’t help but cackle.

Inevitably, as Fahed and Yoni spend more time together, a grudging respect and tender trust is born. Scenarios that have been visited on one become visited on the other, symbolising their similiarities. But being on the road together is a transient state. What will happen to this fragile truce once they reach their destination with all its official complications?

What happens is that the final act becomes as sentimental as the first act was uncompromising. It feels like Riklis has tacked on a narratively ill-fitting aside in the name of wish fulfillment. Yet even though the pieces of the Zaytoun puzzle do not slot together harmoniously, the whole remains more engrossing than a more cohesive but less ambitious picture.

Reviewed on: 02 Oct 2012
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An Israeli hostage and a Palestinian orphan form an uneasy bond as they flee Beirut militias.
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Director: Eran Riklis

Writer: Nader Rizq

Starring: Stephen Dorff, Abdallah El Akal, Ali Suliman

Year: 2012

Runtime: 107 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: UK, Israel


London 2012

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