The Olive Tree

 

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A road movie without a consistent tone held together by its lead actress, Anna Castillo.

 
Olive Tree, The

 

Alma (Anna Castillo) is a young woman at odds with her father (Miguel Angel Aladren) but close to her grandfather, Ramón (Manuel Cucala). The family feel that the old man should be put in a home since he has now become mute and tends to wander off, but Alma is convinced that what has reduced him to this state is the fact that he is mourning the loss of the old olive tree, one over two thousand years old, that had stood on the family's farmland. Despite regarding the tree as a sacred inheritance, Ramón had been talked into selling it by his family. Now, having discovered that the tree's present owner is a company and that it stands in the entrance hall of the organisation's headquarters in Dusseldorf, Alma plans to restore Ramón's spirit by bringing it back.

 

The Olive Tree is a film by the Spanish director Icíar Bollaín who has yet to equal the brilliance of her 2003 film Take My Eyes. Here, as is frequently the case, she is working from a screenplay by her husband Paul Laverty and, given the good work that he has done for Ken Loach, it is surprising to find that the defects in The Olive Tree can all be traced to the writing. The film may last just under 100 minutes but the nature of the material is such that it feels stretched. The tale may take us all the way from Spain to Germany and back, but that it should divert en route to bring in the seizure of a statue in satisfaction of debt (a scene to recall the Greek film Ulysses' Gaze of 1995) smacks of the need to elaborate the story to reach feature length.

 

However, the central problem is one of tone. Initially, the good location shooting encourages us to regard The Olive Tree as a potentially touching piece, yet before long one senses that as drama it is uncomfortably close to sentimentality. Furthermore, Alma's decision to tell a big lie (she persuades her uncle (Javier Gutiérrez) and her friend Rafa (Pep Ambròs) to drive her in a truck to Dusseldorf by claiming that the tree's late owner is expecting it to be collected there) makes her behaviour seem far-fetched - and that may be why there is more and more emphasis on comic touches as the film proceeds.

 

Had The Olive Tree allowed the humour to turn it into a charming fable older viewers might have embraced it. But that audience might well dislike the amount of strong language incorporated into this almost fairy-tale world and, in any case, the film does a volte-face by turning away from the humour to embrace a contrived conclusion that fairly wallows in sentimentality. However, if anybody could hold together this uneasy mix and win for the film a rating from me that I regard as rather generous, it would be Anna Castillo who is admirably cast in the lead role. And it could be that there will be viewers more ready than I am to accept unquestioningly the shifts between comedy and pathos.

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Cast: Anna Castillo, Javier Gutiérrez, Pep Ambròs, Manuel Cucala, Miguel Ángel Aladren, Carme Pia, Ana Isabel Mena, Maria Romero, Paula Usero, Janina Agnes Schröder, Cris Blanco, Paco Manzanedo.

 

Dir Icíar Bollaín, Pro Juan Gordon, Screenplay Paul Laverty, Ph Sergi Gallardo, Art Dir Laia Collet, Ed Nacho Ruiz Capillas, Music Pascal Gaigne, Costumes Susa Sasserath.

 

Seville International/Morena Films/Match Factory Productions-Eureka Entertainment.
99 mins. Spain/Germany/France/Canada. 2016. Rel: 17 March 2017. Cert. 15.