The Olive Tree – Film Review by Pat V.
Director: Icíar Bollaín (as Iciar Bollain)
Writer: Paul Laverty (screenplay)
Stars: Anna Castillo, Javier Gutiérrez, Pep Ambròs
A young Spanish woman refuses to turn her back on her family’s heritage in Iciar Bollain’s (Oscar nominated for her 2010 film, Even the Rain) inspirational and moving latest film set in a rural community in eastern Spain, deeply affected by the economic recession.. Together with her screenwriter/partner, Paul Laverty (I, Daniel Blake, The Wind that Shook the Barley), Bollain presents a story of family conflict and a literal and spiritual quest to heal the wounds of the past and make sense of the future.
In the opening shots of the film we meet feisty, 20-year-old, Alma (Anna Castillo) whose family has been forced to abandon their production of the olive oil that was their life’s work for centuries, and become involved in industrial poultry farming, in order to survive financially. Alma’s anger towards her family, evident from the start, is explained in flashback where we see her devotion to her grandfather and their mutual fascination with a gnarled thousand-year-old olive tree, now no longer on their land. We learn that the tree was sold for commercial replanting by Alma’s father years before, amid much fraught familial dispute.
The grandfather, mute now and suffering from dementia, seems obsessed with the long lost olive tree and keeps wandering from the house to the spot where it grew. Convinced that she can save her ailing grandfather if he is reunited with his beloved tree, Alma tricks her unsuspecting uncle, Arti (Javier Gutierrez) and co-worker, Rafa (Pep Ambros), who has a crush on her, to accompany her on quixotic journey to find what happened to the olive tree and to bring it back home. What follows is a combination of fable, road movie, social commentary and love story, that is both comic and immensely touching.
The stunning cinematography of Sergi Gallardo beautifully captures the contrast between the vitality and earthiness of the Spanish scenes and the cold efficiency of the German urban sequences where the action moves to. Laverty, a long-time associate of Ken Loach, shares his preoccupation with the dehumanising effects of bureaucracy and the struggles of the individual in the face of big business. However, Bollain’s movie is not primarily a social or political commentary. It is a tender story of the resilience of the human spirit and the pursuit of an impossible dream in a world where money is god. The performances are uniformly strong and while our credulity may be stretched at times as the story develops, this is an engaging and heart-warming film.