×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Zaytoun

An accessible, briskly paced and occasionally schematic adventure that could find its way into the hearts of unlikely auds via a kid-centric story and a solid perf by Stephen Dorff.

With:
With: Stephen Dorff, Abdallah El Akal, Alice Taglioni, Loai Nofi, Ali Suliman, Ashraf Barhom. (English, Arabic, Hebrew dialogue)

A Middle Eastern road movie/buddy picture built around the oddest of couples — an Israeli pilot, and a 12-year old Palestinian — Eran Riklis’ “Zaytoun” is an accessible, briskly paced and occasionally schematic adventure that could find its way into the hearts of unlikely auds via a kid-centric story and a solid perf by Stephen Dorff. It also has an all-but-unspoken subplot that haunts the entire production, and elevates its story above and beyond the mere romantic-political thriller many viewers will presume it to be.

The tale is set in 1982 Beirut, in a Lebanon riven by civil war and overrun with Palestinian refugees who can’t even enter the city limits without running a line of snipers. Entrepreneurial boys like Fahed (Abdallah El Akal) try to eke out a living selling gum and cigarettes, until they’re driven back to their slum-like camp. Though it arrives early in the film, the visual transition from city to camp is one of the more striking moments provided by Riklis and d.p. Dan Lausten, the camera traveling from a relatively sunny urban center to an almost haunting-looking avenue, which in turn leads to another place, and another life.

There, young Fahed lives with his widowed father, who spends his time cultivating an olive tree he hopes one day to replant in the village where he was born. Fahed regularly skips school, or gets thrown out for smoking in class, and he and his friends are also forced into training led by some rather hapless-seeming PLO coaches. It’s not a place that generates a lot of optimism, or excitement, so it’s a big day when an Israeli jet goes down nearby, and the Israeli pilot is captured.

The orphaned Fahed’s reaction to Yoni (Dorff) is predictably hostile, but his desire to return to his parents’ village is so strong that he frees the pilot, who has promised to take Fahed home. That the two will eventually reach a rapprochement, and even friendship, never seems in doubt. The only mystery is how many contrived calamities, close calls and hair-raising escapes will have to ensue before they both reach their intended destinations.

There are some beautiful moments in “Zaytoun,” thanks to the Israeli locales, and a willingness to be poetic; Fahed, standing on the ruins of his parents house, arms outstretched in the breeze, makes for an exquisite shot, and generates a sense of exhilaration and hope.

Given how much “Zaytoun” follows the playbook, the pic’s portentous ending is extraordinarily subtle, and will resonate best with those who know the history of the region, circa 1982. For such viewers, the finish is highly disturbing and effective.

Production values are mixed. Yoni and Fahed often escape danger via the miracle of editing. Some scenes are overlit and artificial in appearance; others are quite striking.

Popular on Variety

Zaytoun

U.K.-Israel-France

Production: A Pathe presentation of a Bedlam/Far Films production. (International sales: Pathe, Paris.) Produced by Gareth Unwin, Fred Ritzenberg, Executive producers, Jessica Malik, Albert Martinez Smith, Simon Olswang, Jerome Seydoux. Directed by Eran Riklis. Screenplay, Nader Rizq.

Crew: Camera (color), Dan Lausten; editor, Herve Schneid; music, Cyril Morin; production designer, Yoel Herzberg; costume designer, Hamada Atallah; sound (Dolby Digital) Ashi Milo; casting, Dan Hubbard, Yael Aviv. Reviewed at Toronto Film Festival (Special Presentations), Sept. 12, 2012. Running time: 107 MIN.

With: With: Stephen Dorff, Abdallah El Akal, Alice Taglioni, Loai Nofi, Ali Suliman, Ashraf Barhom. (English, Arabic, Hebrew dialogue)

More Film

  • Incitement

    'Incitement' Wins Ophir Award for Best Picture, Becomes Israel's Oscar Submission

    “Incitement” was the best-picture winner at Israel’s Ophir Awards on Sunday night, automatically becoming the country’s choice to vie for the international feature film Oscar. The winning film, a drama about the period leading up to the assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin by a Jewish extremist in 1995, had its global premiere at [...]

  • LargoAI

    LargoAI Wins Inaugural San Sebastian Zinemaldia & Technology Startup Challenge

    SAN SEBASTIAN  —  Swiss artificial intelligence and data analytics company LargoAI won Sunday’s first-ever San Sebastian Film Festival Zinemaldia & Technology Startup Challenge. LargoAI’s software provides data-driven filmmaking strategies, similar to those used by major VOD platforms which aggregate and often horde their own user-driven data. From early in the screenwriting process through development and [...]

  • MARIANA-RONDÓN-MARITÉ-UGÁS

    FiGa Snags 'Contactado,' By The Team Behind San Sebastian Winner 'Pelo Malo' (EXCLUSIVE)

    Sandro Fiorin’s FiGa Films has picked up worldwide sales rights to “Contactado,” the upcoming feature by Sudaca Films’ Marité Ugás and Mariana Rondón, the duo behind San Sebastian 2013 Golden Shell winner, “Pelo Malo.” The Sudaca partners are attending San Sebastian to pitch Rondón-helmed project “Zafari” at the 8th Europe-Latin American Co-production Forum. Directed by [...]

  • Brad Pitt stars in “Ad Astra”.

    'Ad Astra' Lifts Above Competition at International Box Office With $26 Million

    Though “Ad Astra” was overthrown by the Crawley family at the domestic box office, Brad Pitt’s astronaut drama reigned supreme at the international box office. Directed by James Gray, “Ad Astra” launched overseas with $26 million from 44 foreign markets. The $80 million sci-fi epic debuted in North America with $19.2 million, bringing global box [...]

  • hugh jackman tiff bad education

    Toronto's Biggest Deal Goes to HBO: A Sign of the Future? (Column)

    When it comes to how we’ll be watching movies — or, at least, watching serious dramas for adults — in the future, here are two stark and timely contradictory facts: 1. Last week, as the Toronto International Film Festival drew to a close, a deal that had been in the rumor stage for a while [...]

  • 'Talking About Trees' Helmer Suhaib Gasmelbari

    'Talking About Trees' Director Suhaib Gasmelbari Receives Variety MENA Award

    Suhaib Gasmelbari, whose Sudanese documentary “Talking About Trees” premiered in the Berlinale’s Panorama section, received the Variety Middle East and North Africa Region Talent Award Saturday at the El Gouna Film Festival in Egypt from festival director Intishal Al Timimi. Variety critic Jay Weissberg, who selected the honoree, said that it is not usual that [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content