Set during the Ethiopian civil war, “Fig Tree” is the story of the coming-of-age story of a Jewish teenager looking to save her non-Jewish boyfriend.
Writer-director Aäläm-Wärqe Davidian takes viewers back to 1989 to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. We meet Mina, a Jewish teenager who learns of her family’s plan to make aliyah in Israel. She fears for her boyfriend, Eli who is likely to be forced into joining Mengistu Haile Mariam’s army. While moving to Israel will solve her family’s problem of dealing with the Ethiopian civil war, it doesn’t solve Eli’s problems.
Religion plays a large role in the film because of the strict rules that Israel has when it comes to making aliyah. While Mina and her family are fine, Eli isn’t. We see the role immigration plays in the film. While it means that one looks to live a better life in another country it’s also tragic that oe’s own country has failed the citizen. Unfortunately, this is where the film ends.
“Fig Tree” is the brilliant directorial debut for the Ethiopian-Israeli filmmaker. Not only did the film win the TIFF Eurimages’ Audentia Award for Best Female director it also had four nominations for the Israeli Ophir Awards–the Oscars equivalent. It lost to –“The Cakemaker” also reviewed here at reviewsbyamoslassen.com.
Betalehem Asmamawe play 16-year-old Mina, a young Jewish, impoverished Ethiopian girl stuck in the war-torn Ethiopia of 1989 and she gives a startling, vulnerable performance. She is a Juliet who must guard her Romeo, Eli (Yohanes Muse), from being torn away from her.
The film opens with the explanation that “In the midst of the civil war, young men are hunted down and forced to join the army of tyrant Mengistu Haile Mariam.” Mina sees her male peers yanked out of classrooms and kidnapped off the streets of Addis Ababa. Her own brother has already lost his arm in this conflict.
To survive, Eli hides in a fig tree where Mina visits him daily, supplying food and company, and although they have not yet made love, the couple finds ways to express their love for each other.
Mina’s grandmother goes to the black market to get the proper papers for the family to emigrate to Israel. What will happen to Eli if the family moves?
The cinematography by Daniel Miller is stunning and the entire cast beautifully recreates Davidian’s childhood memories. (She emigrated to Israel at age eleven near the end of the war herself). The ending of the film is unforgettable as is all that we see here.