The olive tree

review by samantha mooney

The Olive Tree is a deceptively simple drama about a family and its thousand year old tree. Director Icíar Bollaín and screenwriter Paul Laverty (Ken Loach’s co-writer) deliver a powerful film that finds familial, economic and environmental grievances inseparably tangled in its branches. The film is a combination of social commentary and road movie, with a deeply human story about family roots, the bonds between generations, personal struggles and the preservation of heritage in changing and challenging times.

The film follows a young Spanish woman, Alma (Anna Castillo) on a journey to recover her grandfather’s olive tree. Her family have fallen on hard times and have been forced out of the olive oil business and forced into poultry farming. Alma’s father and uncle have made unfortunate financial and business decisions and selling the tree becomes their last resort. The decision, we quickly discover, has backfired in more ways than one. Alma’s grandfather, played by a local non-actor, is left in mourning at the loss of the tree. He wanders to and from the spot where the tree once stood in hermetic silence. The uprooting of the tree acting as a symbol for the broken bonds within the family. In a series of emotive flashbacks we see the relationship between Alma, her grandfather and the tree, which has now been sold to a German sustainability company, and sits in the lobby of their offices.

Alma, seeing her grandfather deteriorating after the loss, knows she must return the tree to him and sets off for Dusseldorf. She is accompanied by her uncle, Arti, (played brilliantly by Javier Gutierrez) and friend Rafa (Pep Ambros). Cinematographer Sergi Gallardo takes full advantage of the serene landscape as the trio drive from Valencia, through France and on to Germany.

It is quite interesting to see a film play on the fashionability of the millennial activist, and to show it in a positive light.  Alma is a strong woman, guided by her emotions and sense of injustice. She enlists the help of her friends and a social media campaign to highlight her cause. Through her use of a social media campaign, Alma encourages mass empathy and action.

The Olive Tree is a powerful film, it feels authentic in emotion, with strong performances, beautiful cinematography and score, the film is engaging and heart-breaking from start to finish.