El Olivo

Spain, Germany


Alma, 20, works in a chicken farm by the village of Canet, in the province of Castellon, on the East coast of Spain. She has a profound connection with her dearly beloved grandfather despite the fact that he has stopped talking years ago. But when he begins to refuse food too, Alma becomes obsessed with an idea: the only way to save her Grandfather is to recover the 2,000-year-old olive tree that the family uprooted and sold 12 years ago against his will.

Lying through her teeth, without a plan and even less money, Alma engages her wayward uncle ""Artichoke"", 45, ruined by the crisis, her colleague Rafa, 30, her friends Wiki (Wikipedia) and Adele and a big part of the small community of Canet in an outrageous endeavour; to find and return the olive tree, lost somewhere in Europe, to its rightful spot in the family grove where it has been tended, and in turn, given life, for over 2 millennia.

Director's Statement

Spain has been living under an excruciating recession for eight years now. Some have been more affected by it than others, but no one has remained untouched.

As we look around us, one can’t help but wonder, how does a 20-year-old live in Spain today? How are today’s youth facing up to the complete lack of opportunities, the corruption, the distrust of institutions? How do young adults who’ve been hearing about the recession since they were twelve or 13 years old, and in many cases feeling its consequences in their own homes, see their parents, our government, our representatives? And above all, what do they see when they look at the future?

Young people are most likely living day-to-day with very few certainties.

Alma, our protagonist, is barely twenty years old and she has inherited a country in ruins, a countryside that has been sold and resold by speculators, and a landscape that has been gobbled up by construction.

In our story, Alma’s mother left her when she was a little girl. The prosperity of her childhood suddenly dissipated as she entered puberty. And in the present many of her friends are leaving, like so many other Spaniards, to look for opportunities elsewhere. Hundreds of businesses from the time of bonanza have closed their doors, including her family’s, which now stands in ruins.

In this time of incertitude, her almost only certainty is her granddad, and everything he represents. Though, she is also certain that her family didn’t do things right.

Alma hasn’t got much to lose, except her granddad, whose life is quickly fading. She also doesn’t have much to believe in, and she basically trusts no one.

For me, THE OLIVE TREE speaks about believing again, about learning to trust again. Because one the highest prices we’re paying on this recession, aside from the country’s impoverishment, is the loss of something essential: hope. And that’s why, in our story, no one remains indifferent in the face of Alma’s quest to get back her olive tree.

Powerful and fragile, fierce and delicate, self-destructive, yet capable of giving everything for the person she loves, Alma is a force of nature, a young woman capable of changing the tides … Or at least to try, by embarking, and embarking others in an impossible, almost quixotic, mission that borders on black comedy.

Because, against all logic, Alma feels that her tree can change it all, and as it turns out by the end, she is not wrong. She may not be able to bring back the light to her grandfather’s eyes, as she intended, but she can heal her relationship with her dad. And she’ll be able to forgive herself and, in the process, forgive him.

And maybe start trusting others and finally look towards the future, doing things a different way.

It is a privilege for me to be able to work again with a Paul Laverty screenplay. Once again, like in EVEN THE RAIN, Paul has managed to tackle a wide and pressing subject matter such as the economic recession, by using completely unique situations and creating full-fledged, three-dimensional characters that defy all clichés and predictability. Alma’s, Alcachofa’s, Rafa’s and even Luis’ adventures are very particular and personal, but they turn out to be quite universal. Because Paul’s screenplay, beyond its general theme, talks about human relationships, it talks about the precarious balance of our emotions, about our fears, about our frailty.

Paul, using humour and infinite nuances, manages, with just a handful of characters, to speak about our recent past, about our present time, and about any and all of us.

THE OLIVE TREE takes place in the village of Canet and its surroundings, a contrasting landscape between ancient, rural and industrialised areas.

Millennial olive trees with spectacular trunks, slowly sculpted by time and nature, stand next to massive chicken farms, where birds are born and bred from chick to hen in merely thirty days to be shipped to the market.

El Bajo Maestrazgo, the estate where the movie takes place, is a territory that is both inland and coastal. Of startling and unsettling beauty, it falls somewhere in the middle between countryside and urban, between past and present. It is also a landscape of sounds. The whistling of the wind in the branches or the birds chirping gets mixed up with the loud, incessant clucking of the hens, forced to eat without rest, day and night.

I intended to capture visually the olive trees’ millenary beauty, the deep intimate connection with nature that Ramon and Alma have, and that we discover mostly through flashbacks. And I also intended to portray visually the disconnection with that same landscape, showing how a construction boom has left a beautiful coast ravaged by half-built, abandoned apartment complexes overlooking the sea.

Tiny, humble Canet and its bright Mediterranean light stand in contrast to the powerful and industrial Dusseldorf, at the heart of Germany’s industrial muscle, with all of its corporate buildings, and the great Rhine river. The massive barges will mark the pass of time in our story as they’re dragged up and down its waters. And a new stark contrast between nature in the millenary olive tree, and its glass and steel cage, as it is used, ironically, as a symbol of sustainability.

Although the tone and visual aspect of the film are realistic, the movie is at its heart a tale, a modern metaphor. And this will allow us to play with the film’s aesthetic, not portraying reality “as it is,” but rather using light and colour in photography, art design and costume design to sharpen the contrasts we portray in the film.

The film’s rhythm and imagery heighten all of these contrasts: the Mediterranean light of Canet, and Northern Europe’s light; the peace and quiet in Canet, and the industrial banging in its surroundings; the stunning beauty of the olive trees in their natural habitat, and the shocking image of those same tress mutilated, in a pot, ready to be sold; the hundred-year-old country homes, and the brand new beach condos by the beach.

And the contrast between Alma’s vital rhythm, fast and intense, just beginning to live her life, and Ramon’s paused, almost still tempo, just about to end his life.

Director's Biography

Born in Madrid, Iciar Bollain has worked as an actress in films such EL SUR (1983), directed by Víctor Erice; SUBLET (1991) directed by Chus Gutiérrez, MISADVENTURE (1988) directed by Manuel Gutiérrez Aragón; EL MEJOR DE LOS TIEMPOS (1990) and AN UMRELLA FOR THREE (1992) directed by Felipe Vega, LAND AND FREEDOM (1995) directed by Ken Loach, LEO (2000) directed by Jose Luis Borau, THEY’RE WATCHING US (2002) directed by Norberto Pérez, THE STONE RAFT (2003) directed by Geogre Sluiezer and THE NIGHT OF THE BROTHER (2005) directed by Santiago García de Leániz.
As a director, Icíar has written and directed many renowned films. FLOWERS FROM ANOTHER WORLD, her second film, was awarded at Cannes in 1999 (Best Film in the International Critics' Week). TAKE MY EYES (2003), her following film as writer and director, won seven Goyas (Spanish Academy Awards), including Best Film, among many other international awards.
She directed a script by Paul Laverty in 2009, EVEN THE RAIN. The film was supported by Eurimages and obtained national and international recognition: 13 nominations to the Goya Awards, Panorama Award at the Berlinale, Ariel Award to best Latin-American film and it was in the short list of the foreign films selected for the US Academy Awards in 2010 representing Spain.

2015 - EN TIERRA EXTRAÑA, doc.

Cast & Crew

Directed by: Iciar Bollain

Written by: Paul Laverty

Produced by: Juan Gordon

Cinematography: Sergi Gallardo

Editing: Nacho Ruiz Capillas

Production Design: Laia Colet

Costume Design: Sussa Sasserath, Francisco de la Cruz

Make-Up & Hair: Marcela Barreto, Karmele Soler

Original Score: Pascal Gaigne

Sound Design: Pelayo Gutierrez

Main Cast: Anna Castillo (Alma), Javier Gutiérrez (Alcachofa), Pep Ambròs (Rafa)

Nominations and Awards

  • Feature Film Selection 2016