Socially critical films fare best in times of economic strive and when the political right and nationalism are on the rise. We’re in the midst of one such period and now starting to see a rise in reactionary cinema. The most prominent film-makers currently doing this kind of work are the Dardenne Brothers in Belgium and Ken Loach in the UK. The latter has been an inspiration for Spanish director Icíar Bollaín and screenwriter Paul Laverty. Their latest collaboration is The Olive Tree.
The economic crisis has left Alma’s (Anna Castillo) family struggling to make ends meet, forcing them to abandon their olive oil production business and take-up poultry farming. Her uncle Arti (Javier Gutiérrez) is bitter and unemployed. Since the loss of their olive trees, Alma’s elderly grandfather (Manuel Cucala) has stop speaking. When he stops eating, she sets out on a quest with Arti and the doting Rafa (Pep Ambròs) to recover a two thousand-year-old tree which was sold to a German energy company.
Bollaín and Laverty have previously worked together on the Oscar-nominated Even the Rain and once again they prove to be a winning combination. The Olive Tree is a beautifully film which combines family drama, social criticism, environmental politics and road movie. Anna Castillo is superb as the plucky Alba, whose belief and determination that this one act will save her grandfather and redeem her family outweighs her growing anxieties. Javier Gutiérrez provides the comic relief, acting as a perfect counterbalance to the drama. The Olive Tree is a simple, yet beautiful, fable about the impact of the financial crisis on ordinary working families.
The Olive Tree is out in cinemas from Friday.