The Olive Tree review: A heartwarming social drama with shades of Ken Loach

Little people take on the corporate beast in this charming film written by longtime Ken Loach collaborator Paul Laverty

The Olive Tree
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Director: Icíar Bollaín
Cert: Club
Genre: Drama
Starring: Anna Castillo, Javier Gutierrez, Pep Ambros, Manuel Cucala, Miguel Angel Aladen
Running Time: 0 hr 0 mins

Director Icíar Bollaín and Paul Laverty, Ken Loach's inseparable writing partner, first worked together when the Spaniard appeared in Loach's epic Land and Freedom. They later collaborated on the hugely ambitious Even the Rain. This lovely drama again shows Bollaín's gift for an elegant image, but domestic viewers will be most struck by the similarities to Laverty's work for Loach.

Once more, working class people stand up to the faceless intransigence of the corporate monster. The picture is funny, angry and just a little sentimental. It is imperfect, but impossible to fully resist.

We begin with stroppy Alba (Anna Castillo) kicking her way about the family’s unappealing poultry farm. Laverty’s script takes us back to a childhood hanging out with her grandfather round the clan’s olive grove.

Later, much against granddad’s wishes, the trees were sold to help finance a beachfront restaurant. That project failed during the economic collapse. The shenanigans broke the older man’s heart and spread discord through the generations.


The opening sections move through the territory of folk drama. Bollaín relishes the timeless vistas and draws well integrated performance from a gifted, committed cast. In its second act, the film happens upon a few awkward contrivances. Alba discovers that her grandfather’s oldest tree has become the logo of an ethically questionable agro-conglomerate that keeps the original in the foyer of its Dusseldorf headquarters. She and her pals travel to Germany with a mind to getting it back.

Little of this makes sense: EnormoCorp may be horrid, but it did legitimately but the thing. It seems unlikely that so many German protesters would be stirred by such an obscure cause. Still, the film has such charm and promotes such good will that it proves hard to care. The phrase is “heartwarming” I believe.

Donald Clarke

Donald Clarke

Donald Clarke, a contributor to The Irish Times, is Chief Film Correspondent and a regular columnist