Zaytoun Review

Film Still
  • Zaytoun film still


The 1982 invasion of Lebanon gets its own buddy road movie. And it's not half bad.

The 1982 invasion of Lebanon is the oddly picturesque setting for this sturdy, undemanding buddy road movie in which Stephen Dorff's downed Israeli fighter pilot Yoni co-opts the help of toothsome Palestinian scamp Fahed (Abdallah El Aka) to escort him back to his homeland.

But Fahed's investment in this perilous journey is more than simply helping this enemy fighter, as he sees this as the lone chance he might have to return to his ancestral (and now raised) village and complete the bidding of his (late) father by planting an olive tree on its grounds.

Though ostensibly a war movie, director Eran Riklis doesn't push the grotesque details too far, furnishing viewers with a clear vision of The Horrors Of War early on when one of Fahed's young buddies is fragged by a Phalangist sniper on the decaying streets of Beirut.

Otherwise, Riklis appears to have spent a lot of time and effort on set decoration and production design, and while the breadth of the period detail is admirable, it all looks too staid and prettified, plus you never for a moment feel like you're back in '82. Also, Riklis' penchant for massive, lavish crane shots really doesn't chime with squalor he's depicting on screen.

Much of the film is take up with the pair's tortuous journey across disputed zones, through military checkpoints and, on one occasion, engaging in a quick game of long passes (with Fahed's beloved football) on a mine field. All the while, our heros' animosity towards one another begins to dull and the struggle for survival gives way to gooey monologues and teary-eyed hugging.

Perhaps a little to schematic to make a real impact, Zaytoun is still compelling and emotionally honest enough to make you want to go along for the ride. El Aka brings just the right level of belligerence and snark to Zahed, while Dorff keeps his tender side in hiding for much of the film and so when it does finally come out, it really hits home.

Politically, it's all a little fudged and trite, with Riklis saying that kindness, understanding and desire for peaceful co-habitation are essentially within us all and that street-level combat is entirely ideologically divorced from the will of the politicos in charge of strategising the whole damn thing.

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