The female protagonists in Jaffa (2009) and Lemon Tree (2008) may differ in terms of religion, ethnicity and age, but both women have something in common: major obstacles stand in the way of their desired relationships. In the case of Jaffa, religion and ethnicity prevent Mali, a young Jewish woman, from marrying her Palestinian boyfriend. In Lemon Tree, age differences and marital standing are significant hurdles separating 40-something widow Salma from her 30-something lawyer, Ziad. While both movies explore the subject of complicated courtship, Jaffa and Lemon Tree employ different filmic techniques to reveal how severe the obstacles are that affect each relationship.
Lemon Tree makes use costumes and props to explore the changing nature of the relationship between Salma and Ziad. At the beginning of the film, Salma dresses in a very conservative manner. She wears long, dumpy dresses and a headscarf. After all, Salma seeks Ziad’s legal assistance for a very serious purpose: her neighbor, the Defense Minister of Israeli, has ordered that Salma’s lemon grove be cut down in order to prevent terrorists from attacking his house from Salma’s orchard. The Palestinian woman inherited the grove from her late father and will not allow her trees to be cut down. Needless to say, Salma’s first meeting with Ziad is as unromantic as it gets.
The lawyer’s desk is covered with stacks of paper; he eats slimy sardines from a can and offers Salma a taste. The woman politely declines. However, the lengthy takes during the shot/reverse/shot sequence between them suggest that the widow and the lawyer are intrigued by one another. As the film progresses, costume choices reveal how the two grow closer. One night after they’ve had a few meetings, Ziad knocks on her door when soldiers won’t let him back into town due to a curfew restriction. The nightgown-clad Salma realizes that Ziad is at the door and purposefully decides not to wear her headscarf.
Her decision not only defies cultural norms, but also it suggests her growing sense of intimacy with Ziad. The two are repeatedly featured in medium shots during the scene, a technique that displays them as a unit separate from the outside world. The close-up of Ziad stroking Salma’s hand proves that their relationship is at its peak. Later in the film, Salma is shown applying lipstick and adjusting her fashionable and brightly-colored attire. Her stylish appearance signals her desire to have Ziad find her attractive. The young lawyer clearly takes notice of her efforts when he checks out her courtroom attire and says: “You look stunning. Enough to drive a guy crazy.”
While costumes showcase Salma and Ziad’s growing interest in one another, the use of photographs in the film emphasizes the obstacles standing in their way. A large picture of Salma’s disgruntled-looking late husband stares Ziad down everytime the lawyer enters the widow’s home. Close-ups of photos in Ziad’s office of his wife and daughter from Moscow emphasize where the man’s loyalty should lie. Finally, Salma’s act of burning a newspaper clipping of Ziad’s engagement to another woman is significant. The older woman decides to remain a respected widow rather than engage in a torrid affair with a fickle attorney.
Though Jaffa also makes use of costumes and props to comment on the nature of a relationship, this film especially takes advantage of editing and cinematography to showcase the obstacles the potential partners face. Whereas Salma and Ziad often appear in the same shots in Lemon Tree, Mali and Toufik are usually positioned in separate shots. Shot/reverse/shot patterns suggest a great divide exists between them. The on-going conflict between Jews and Arabs is so severe that Mali and Toufik have more difficulty escaping into their own universe than Salma and Ziad do in Lemon Tree. Extreme close-ups on the two farewell letters that Mali writes during the film emphasize the controversial nature of the young lovers’ relationship. In order to keep her family, Mali must shatter her relationship with Toufik. In order to be with Toufik, Mali must give up her family. The extreme close-up on the approval letter for Mali’s abortion puts into perspective the intense decisions the young woman must make as she chooses between her soul mate and her parents.
Costumes and props also suggest the divisive nature of Mali’s relationship. The two duffel bags initially serve as a symbol of hope for the couple. Mali’s face is glowing as she packs her bag; she smiles as she clutches a white dress that she’ll presumably wear on her wedding day. However, the fact that the only place to hide the packed duffel bags is under the filthy mattress in a side room of the father’s car shop hints that Mali’s elopement won’t be easy or glamorous. Not surprisingly, the duffel bags eventually symbolize lost opportunities. When Mali must hide the evidence that she and Toufik tried to run away, the young woman has no other option but to chuck the bags into a dumpster.
However, when Toufik contacts Mali again after his prison stint, it becomes clear that the now-thirty year-old woman misses her childhood love. Camerawork reveals Mali’s desire to see Toufik again. The woman is positioned in a medium shot with her back to the camera as she speaks to Toufik on the phone while they plan a meeting place. That Mali is turned away from both her parents and viewers suggests that the single mom is ready to act on her own impulses and finally stand up to her parents.