The Olive Tree
Alma (Anna Castillo) is one of three cousins who constitute the youngest generation in a close, yet slightly dysfunctional family of chicken farmers in the Spanish province of Castellon. But they didn’t always have a penchant for poultry; once, the family business was far more romantic, as they lovingly harvested plump olives from the ancestral grove of olive trees. Alma has cosy memories of the oldest of the trees, where her grandfather (Manual Cucala) taught her to graft new trees and she recalls her childhood imagination seeing a monster’s face in the 2,000 year old heirloom. Her fondness for her grandfather extended to the beautifully ancient tree, as Grandfather himself imparted his own appreciation for the oldest family member, in his eyes. But economic crises led to the family selling the tree, against eight-year-old Alma’s and Grandfather’s wishes, to fund a new project. When the latter is reaching the end of his life, Alma sets out to find the tree, hoping to rekindle a zest for life in her beloved Grandfather.
Families, Mistakes and Relationships
‘The Olive Tree’ is about, amongst other things, families, mistakes, relationships and the clash between old and new. Alma’s family is dysfunctional in a very normal way. Few families can claim to be fully functional and just as there are times when things seem really bad, there are times when things are really good. Castillo plays a grumpy Alma; an Alma that doesn’t seem to fit in; an Alma that makes mistakes. But the boundless love she shows for her grandfather sweeps all of that to one side and even her deceit - in her search for the missing tree - could be forgiven. She underplays her part and the result is a real person in whom you can believe. Javier Gutierrez plays her uncle, who provides the truck for Alma’s journey and he succeeds in polarising Alma’s hostility towards her family. Pep Ambros does a good job of eliciting some audience sympathy as the long-suffering Rafa, whose silent adoration for Alma is manifest with gazes that last a bit too long, but not so long that she notices.
Old and New
Iciar Bollain has directed a family drama with an expert balance of strife, humour and poignancy. Dusty shots of olive groves (credit to cinematographer Sergi Gallardo) and a backdrop of light classical music, composed by Pascal Gaigne, give a realness and a gentleness to the piece, despite some passionate displays of anger. The soft vibe seems to act as a reassurance, as if trying to convey the idea that such passion is ok, because that’s what happens in families. Many a movie has employed ‘the journey’ idea to denote a character’s individual journey to self-discovery and ‘The Olive Tree’ is no exception. A sub-plot along the way involving Uncle Al and a miniature Statue of Liberty provides some bizarre humour and some of the funniest scenes involve said statue at various stages of its journey from Spain to Dusseldorf. The inclusion of social media adds an interesting facet to the story: Alma wants to preserve the old - her grandfather and the olive tree being prime examples - yet facets of modern life, such as social media, become intertwined with her quest. But above all, ‘The Olive Tree’ will entertain you with a real story in picturesque surroundings.