The Olive Tree (2016) | Eureka Dual Format release

April 3rd, 2017
Author: Meredith Taylor

Dir.: Iciar Bollain | Cast: Anna Castillo, Javier Gutierrez, Pep Ambros, Manuel Cucala, Miguel Aladren | Drama | Spain/Germany | 100 min.

The third collaboration between Madrileno director Iciar Bollain and British scriptwriter (and Loach regular) Paul Laverty is far more successful than Katmandu and Even the Rain: The Olive Tree not only combines themes of ecology and economic hardship, but also weaves together the personal with the political in a story that centres on a headstrong but vulnerable heroine (Alma played by Castillo) in the midst of a family conflict, played out against a backdrop of disturbed rural tranquillity in rural Castellon, Spain.

Alma’s family is in disarray because her father has sold their pride and joy, a thousand-year old olive tree of to an energy company in Düsseldorf, West Germany in order to finance his new concern – a restaurant and poultry farm poultry farm. Anna is very close to her grandfather Ramon, and in flashbacks, we witness Ramon and the young Alma bonding over the love for the famed old olive tree, before it is forcible removed by her father Luis (Aladren). His brother Arti (Gutierrez) is equally guilty in Alma’s eyes, since he invested his part of the deal in a business which has since gone bankrupt, with his wife leaving him into the bargain: “you, like the whole country, are lying to yourself”. The conflict escalates when Ramon grows despondent, sinking into a near catatonic state. The penniless Alma is convinced that the retrieval of the fabled tree will restore Ramon’s physical and psychological health, so she hatches a cunning plan to bring it back to the farm in Canet, talking uncle Arti and his co-worker Rafa (Ambros) into driving to Germany with a huge transporter, to fetch the tree back. During the journey, Alma finesses her tree re-patriation project that involves recruiting the help of a womens’ environmental group in Germany, but soon turns into a wild goose chase for all concerned. Bollain’s intricate script and superb cast, lead by the eloquent and graceful Castillo.. The men characters lack integrity (apart from Ramon), and are certainly no match for Alma or her girl friends. DoP Sergi Gallardi’s visuals conjure up the sun-drenched Autumnal beauty of the rural setting contrasting the steely German locations. Iciar Bollain avoids cloying sentimentality and a pseudo happy end in this stirring portrait of a modern woman, giving modern man as run for his money. AS


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