Stephen Dorff, left, portrays an Israeli pilot freed on a promise to lead a Palestinian boy, played by Abdallah El Akal, home from Beirut. (Strand Releasing)
“Zaytoun” follows a classic formula in an uneasy setting, the Middle East.
The result is a film that’s a bit sentimental inside a world that’s a political mess, and that mess offers just enough edge to keep things interesting.
The formula is mismatched enemies forced to work together to overcome an obstacle. And, of course, by working together they form a bond.
The twist here is the film begins in 1982, in war-ravaged Beirut. Palestinian refugees and freedom fighters held in a camp there capture a downed Israeli pilot, Yoni (Stephen Dorff). Among his jailers is pre-adolescent Fahed (Abdalla El Akal), a kid so cocky he even shoots Yoni in the butt when Yoni threatens one of his friends.
But Fahed, who lives with his grandfather, wants to return to his Palestinian village on a personal mission. So he ends up setting Yoni free on a promise to escort him to Palestine.
This is no simple task: All of Beirut is a battleground and a Palestinian refugee is as likely to get shot as anyone else, while an Israeli pilot is a major target. But Yoni and Fahed cross Lebanon with close calls at every turn.
As with all good road movies, a dose of humor is in the mix. Director Eran Riklis and writer Nader Rizq realize bonds are built on more than bullet-dodging.
The problem, of course, is what happens to Fahed if they make it back to Israeli-occupied territory. Palestinian kids aren’t exactly highly prized commodities there.
The resolution is a bit Hollywood, but then who says all films about the Middle East have to be relentlessly grim? “Zaytoun” dares to find common ground and hope amidst political confusion.
Running time: 110 minutes