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23rd March 2017

Review: The Olive Tree

Elegant scriptwriting and heartfelt acting has created the emotive masterpiece that is The Olive Tree

Directed by Icíar Bollaín, Spanish film The Olive Tree is a tender and heartfelt portrayal of a twenty year-old girl named Alma and her struggle to accept her grandfather’s dementia and inevitable death. Actress Anna Castillo excellently portrays the deep-rooted anger that Alma’s tough persona so clearly hides, as well as the vulnerability and hurt she has built up as a result of her relationship with her father. I was at first led to believe that this anger was merely a result of the fact that when Alma was still a child her father and uncle had decided to sell her grandfather’s beloved two-thousand year family olive tree for €30,000, losing the ‘sacred’ tree forever without having a trace of where it has ended up. Initially, I was dubious about why she had become so angry about this over ten years after it had happened when — after all — it is just a tree, yet the intelligent scriptwriting by Paul Laverty meant that I was later in no doubt as to why Alma was so angry. Working a mundane job in a battery chicken farm, with the family’s restaurant bought with the money from selling the tree having failed, we are left begging the question, what did this family actually give up such an irreplaceable tree for?

The inside shots of the dilapidated restaurant and claustrophobic, dark family home where argument scenes take place in both the present, and in flashback, contrast with the wide, open space shots of the olive gardens where Alma’s grandfather searches for the missing tree. As we are taken on an on-the-road journey to get the tree back from Germany, we learn that Alma’s anger is about much more than a tree, and the film manages to explore deep set family tension against a background of economic downfall and the life-crushing effects the crisis has had on families and, in particular, the young. Although the plot can at times feel a little ridiculous, the film is successful in combining the everyday stresses of modern day life with the overriding theme of the importance and invaluableness of legacy. As Alma’s struggle to regain the tree is hijacked by environmentalists campaigning against the company which now owns it, the hype for this illustrated by the film’s inclusion of on-screen texts and in shot views of Facebook and Skype, which I feared would be over-done but just about managed to avoid trying too hard to be modern, as it worked in context with the plot. Another success of the film was its portrayal of Alma’s relationship with the various men in her life, the lack of trust for her father helping to explain why she puts so much effort into returning the tree to her Grandfather, as she loses the one man who has always loved and protected her. Humorous, sweet and tragic, The Olive Tree is certainly worth a watch.


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