By all accounts and purposes, Zaytoun should have been excellent and one of the films of the Festival. The synopsis certainly made it seem like a brilliant film, but then we sat down and the film started and it all went downhill from there. Set at the beginning of the Lebanon war, it follows a young Palestinian boy and a captured Israeli pilot who travel to the border of Israel/Palestine with no reason until one is conjured up towards the end. The pilot has a reason at least, but the boy trails around with a tree and the film descends further into hopelessness with every step they take. The subject matter should make it a compelling partner to Lebanon released a few years ago and filmed entirely from the inside of a tank, but somehow the people behind Zaytoun have managed to create a schmaltzy and sterile mess of a film.
The problems start with the script, which really is half the film. If you get the script wrong you may as well not bother. Zaytoun‘s script is obvious and far too on the nose. The majority of people will know about the war so lines such as, “Last one back is a dirty Israeli!” are unnecessary and hammering home a point the audience already understand. With a film like this there isn’t a whole lot of scene setting that’s needed and even if it was necessary, using lines like that isn’t the way to go about it. So within ten minutes the script is awful and an odd Hollywood sheen is being cast over the film. Everything is slightly too clean, the camera work is too smooth and the pilot is perfectly rugged. It doesn’t feel right and leaves the film devoid of atmosphere. With a subject matter like the Lebanon war, an atmosphere shouldn’t be hard to create but somehow Zaytoun bypasses that entirely, quite a feat! The film flicks between attempting to be a bromance road-trip and a serious comment on the war, and it doesn’t do well with either. They’ve tried to lighten the mood on the bromance/road-trip side with the Bee Gees but instead of giving you a warm fuzzy feeling, it’s just annoying. Equally, the other side of the film is summed up by a scene involving a minefield which is a) far too short and b) so relaxed and devoid of tension it’s quite remarkable.
There’s not much else to say about Zaytoun. Frankly, the pilot’s accent is appalling, the child is obnoxious and there’s no one to care about or relate to. Couple that with a terrible script and no atmosphere and this is a film to avoid. It’s just under two hours, so if you’ve got something else, anything else, you could be doing, do that instead.
Director: Eran Riklis
Writer: Nader Rizq (screenplay)
Stars: Stephen Dorff, Alice Taglioni, Ashraf Barhom
Runtime: 107 min
Country: UK, Israel