Fig Tree (2018)
93 minutes, Ethiopia
“Romeo & Juliet set in war-ravaged Ethiopia.”
The fundamentals of Fig Tree could refer to a classic Romeo and Juliet story. A Jewish girl (Betalehem Asmamawe) and Christian boy (Rodas Gizaw) are deeply in love and meant to be together, but their different religious backgrounds withhold them to be so. Only this time the story is set in Ethiopia, 1989, during the Eritrean War of Independence.
Mina a 16-year old, lives with her grandma on the outskirts of Addis Ababa. She works in the family business, goes to school and finds time to hang out on a huge old fig tree with her best friend and lover Eli. Ethiopia is at war. Young boys are kidnapped from the streets every day and forced into the army. Eli hides out in nature to stay out of sight from the abducting soldiers. Mina’s mum has already fled to Israel and when the time comes, her grandma organizes a trip for the rest of the family to join her. Mina becomes frantic with worry as the Christian Eli is not able to join them.
For writer-director Aalam-Warqe Davidian a strong memory from this period is growing up without men who served the army. It were the women who had to keep up with life. They organized everything and provided a safe place for the children giving them the feeling that they were having a normal youth. As a child, Davidian was among a majority of Ethiopian Jews who emigrated to Israel. Her loosely autobiographical feature debut is poetic and wonderfully shot. Yet, it is also deeply saddening and a far too unknown depiction of Ethiopia’s war crimes.