ein piece of land in front of the door, on which a lemon tree grows, is very lucky. It could almost be enough for a good life – if it weren’t for the neighbor who always uses the fruit when you step into the garden yourself. And if it weren’t for the whole world around you: this strange chaos, a collection of the strangest characters who, it seems to the protagonist’s eyes, only do incomprehensible things.
Elia Suleiman is the man who looks at all of this. Always slightly surprised, the big eyes alternating between amusement and gloom, with a three-day beard, glasses and a hat on his head. He doesn’t speak, just opens his mouth to say something: “Nazareth.” It is his answer to the question of his country of origin, and he adds, “I am a Palestinian.”
Suleiman wanders around in his new film “From the Watering of the Lemon Tree” in an equally apathetic and sympathetic manner. In the original it is called “It Must Be Heaven” and is only allegorical about the tree that is literally rooted in its land and raises the question of how much its inhabitants are or can be. Instead, he turns to the small, quiet moments and lets them see the big, loud. In vignettes that can remind you of sketches by Jacques Tati or Buster Keaton, but have something more wistful about them, Suleiman creates a mosaic of the present. So his alter ego, like the director during his life, travels from Nazareth to Paris, then to New York and eventually back to the vicinity of the lemon tree.
Burlesque in perfectly arranged scenes
He is not a sad clown, rather a thoughtful one. Life happens to him wherever he goes, and he just has to look at it, mostly motionless with melancholy eyes, as if his presence was the keyword for all sorts of scenarios. In his field of vision, the stage on which encounters, persecutions and conversations take place is always funny, weird and strange. The world flows in on him, Suleiman in the middle: smoking, sitting, strolling, walking. He himself seems almost invisible. In one scene, a bunch of teenagers first run towards him and then pass him by as if he didn’t exist. With a coffee cup, lemonade, wine glass or schnapps on the table in front of him, Suleiman is sure of himself as the reclusive observer.
Before him, however, the burlesque rages in perfectly arranged scenes: an ambulance with flashing lights drives up to Paris to serve a menu of chicken, tabbouleh and chocolate to a homeless person. Two cleaning workers sink beer cans into the gullis on the sparkling clean street. The old neighbor in Nazareth tells a hunting story without being asked, a parable about helpfulness. A drunk throws a bottle against the wall in front of two policemen who are watching him with binoculars. The old neighbor and his son sit with their backs to each other on two balconies at night and throw insults at their heads.
Silent observer in a crazy world
What is not spoken in words is shown in pictures. Suleiman presents a panorama of contemporary atmospheres against the premise that the absurdity of Palestine cannot be so foreign to its absurdity: Instead of an occupied territory, the focus here is on societies occupied by authority apparatus. In a deserted Paris, tanks roll past the Banque de France, the jardins and streets of the city become extinct, which seems almost creepier than the military presence. Heavily armed families shop in New York’s deli, and a freedom fighter runs around in Central Park. Almost gracefully, three policemen spin on Segways in an everyday choreography through the alleys of Paris. Four policemen surveyed the bistro’s terrace, where Suleiman had his coffee, as if exploring the justification for his existence.
Suleiman relies on the power of his pictures. In statically stylized, often symmetrical settings, tableaus are created that leave room for associations. “From the Watering of the Lemon Tree” is the self-reflection of a filmmaker whose work is essential to Palestinian film. His latest film project, on the other hand, is “not Palestinian enough,” explains the producer Suleiman visits in Paris, saying that it can play anywhere and that it is not interesting. He doesn’t seem to be lucky with “It Must Be Heaven” at another company either: Gael García Bernal in the role of himself describes him as a filmmaker who, despite his background, makes “funny films”, but is ultimately more interested in his to advance your own project. And so Palestine can be found everywhere in this film: in the westernmost metropolises of the world, in conversations and prejudices like in your own garden. The eagerly invoked freedom of art and people in the West appears to be a mere facade.
With this in mind, Elia Suleiman does not play the role of the silent observer in a literally insane world for the first time. In “Chronicles of a Disappearance”, his first film from 1996 and in “Divine Intervention”, he was first the figure whose field of vision could be seen, and soon the protagonist with the big eyes looking at his homeland. Suleiman relies on words instead of silence and images instead of narration to create a feeling for them. In the film he is asked at a lecture at a university about his relationship to the different places where he lived: “Are you the perfect stranger?” Again: big eyes, no answer. In the Duden there is a plural of home: the home. It is rarely used, but it could apply to Suleiman’s work and life.