The Olive Tree 12A
Young Alma and her grandfather (Cucala) always shared a unique bond, both loving the two thousand year old olive tree the old man has nurtured since his youth. However, when her father sold the tree to fund a site for a family restaurant it affected the two in different ways: Alma (growing up to be Castillo) has emotional problems while her grandfather has retreated into himself, refusing to speak since the tree was uprooted. Figuring that finding the tree and bringing it home will spur her grandfather from his mental funk, Alma convinces her uncle (Gutiérrez) and a friend (Ambrós) to hire a flatbed and make for Dusseldorf where the tree is reportedly housed in the lobby of an energy corporation…
The third collaboration between director Iciar Bollain and writer Paul Laverty (Even The Rain, Katmandu), Ken Loach's regular scribe since the mid-nineties, The Olive Tree is an amiable and entertaining affair that touches on Laverty's usual themes: the Underdog versus the Oppressor. Aside from the elderly man being powerless to stop his tree from being taken, the story later has Alma enlist the help of right-on German student lawyers to rally the troops against this mega corporation (the irony that the energy corp use the uprooted tree as their logo is not lost on all concerned) for their imminent arrival.
For the most part, though, the Road Movie framing disguises the political commentary, with Laverty having fun exploring the will they/won't they romance between Castillo and Ambrós and teasing the audience re the reveal of the big secret - Alma keeps the true nature of the tree's location a secret from her companions.
While Laverty's script works hard to instil the philosophical importance of the beautiful tree ("It is life, it is history," Cucala says) and its emotional link between grandfather and granddaughter is beautifully rendered in tender flashbacks, the writer's characters aren't as defined as strongly as they usually are. It's hard to get a grasp of Alma and what she's about: her mission in an altruistic one but it’s not one that's going to change her life; she doesn't grow as a person as she reaches the German city and it's difficult to see how this journey will help her deal her 'emotional problems', which aren't really explored past her pulling out her hair in clumps.
Review by Gavin Burke | 15:38 | Wednesday 8th March 2017 | Movie Review