It Suits You, But It's Not Right For Us: Through The Olive Trees (1994)

Abbas Kiarostami is not unfamiliar to this blog some months ago I heavily praised his work Close-Up as being not only an absolutely cinematic and politically intense work but a means to better represent exactly what I feel cinema can provide as a sort of simulacrum and recreation of our own historical and cultural understandings.  It should be no surprise then that his film from four years later Through The Olive Trees manages to provide a similar sense of metacinema that is not only referential to other moments in cinematic history as well as its own historical relevance, but too is  means to better understand our own performances within moments, particularly when those moments are clouded by disaster, loss and coming to age much quicker than planned.  While I am by no means an expert on Iranian history, nor their culture, I would venture to say that the means by which tragedy influences the film, would be similar to a filmmaker making a film about making a film about 9/11...if any of the makes sense, probably not though.  To follow the work of Kiarostami one must inherently be willing to deconstruct their notions of traditional narrative, as well as cinematic spaces, particularly when it comes to question what amount of honesty and validity can arise from a cinematic moment, one that is constantly changing and influenced by a multitude of off screen factors, whether they be something as minor as the misplacement of props or something much larger, as is the case with unrequited love in this film.  Furthermore, given the rather problematic construction of the Middle East that has been created with the Western, particularly American, rhetoric one could find themselves assuming that an Iranian film would be cultural insensitive, sexually oppressive and negative on a large scale.  However the work of Kiarostami, and from what I understand is the case for most Iranian filmmakers, they manage to remind viewers that for a very large portion of the Iranian people war and politics are just as unwelcome and corrupt as they are in the states and it is their government preventing them from speaking against these injustices, not matter how brilliantly they manage to do so within a filmic setting.

As was the case in Close-Up the line between actor and character are often blurred, something that is engaged with from the films beginning when we are shown the actor Mohamad Ali Keshavarz, who plays a director within the film, explaining that he will be going to a girls school to cast the role of a young girl within Kiarostami's film, making it as much a moment of documentary filmmaking as it is the actual narrative.  While this is the only moment of direct breaking of the fourth wall, the films other main character of sorts Hossein is played by a young man named Hossein Rezai, causing the lines between reality and fiction to further blur.  What one is able to draw from the hybrid of fact and fiction is that Hossein has given up his life as a mason worker with the hopes of becoming an actor, a dream that has been pushed healthily forward by being cast in a leading role by the director from the beginning of the film.  A problem emerges, however, when the role of lead female is given to a neighborhood girl named Tahereh (Tahereh Ladanian) of whom Hossein has attempted on countless times to court.  Despite having lost both her parents in an earthquake, an event that evades every conversation in the film, her grandmother a conservative refuses to grant Hossein's requests for marriage, despite her daughters liking him, stating that he is both illiterate and does not have a house for them to live in upon marriage.  Hossein is not stupid and realizes she is just being elitist, noting that most newlyweds do not have homes, and that if so desired he would take up masonry, yet again, solely to provided them with a private domestic space.  While it is hard to tell, Tahereh does take a liking to Hossein within their repeated performance of a scene in which Hossein is to find his shoes, eventually ending the day of shooting.  While the adult crew bickers over issues of moving equipment Tahereh begins walking home only to eventually be followed home by Hossein and in what is a moment of absolute cinematic magic, we are given an extremely long distance shot of Tahereh finally answering Hossein about marriage.  We are left to wonder about her answer as the young man runs back across a green field.

There could be countless books written on not only the state of metacinema, but the director Abbas Kiarostami as well.  In fact, I may make it a goal of mine to read at least one book of criticism on this director while on Christmas break, as I imagine it will have a profound effect on my understanding of cinema as a larger concept.  Yet this is not the topic I want to discuss when concerning oneself with Through the Olive Trees.  Instead I find it to be a film incredibly influenced by what role tragedy and loss has upon youthful bliss and ignorance.  As mentioned, an earthquake which occurred a few years prior in Iran evades every moment of the film and is, in fact, mentioned in many of the meta scenes filmed within the film.  We, as viewers, are led to believe that whole families were lost within the disaster leaving a variety of dismantled and broken homes, both literally and figuratively.  As such, many, if not all of the youth and children within this film seem to exist in an uncomfortable space where they are required to dismiss their youthful bliss in the face of forced roles in adulthood.  This certainly holds true for the two young boys bringing flowers and plants to the filming set whose looks of loss and confusion cannot be ignored.  Furthermore, it invariably affects the means and manner of how Hossein woos Tahereh, in that much of his rhetoric is surrounded by offering a safe domestic space in which they can be their own family and create their own home for the future.  Nothing in his talks suggests youthful love and blind ambition, yet the head over heals nature of his approaches to winning Tahereh certainly do, particularly when he follows her in a near stalker manner begging for her hand.  In the end it appears as though the two young people are provided with a fragile and beautiful moment of young happiness, or at least that is what I like to imagine in the film closing moments, if not it will go down as one of the saddest endings in cinematic history.

Key Scene:  There are a few car scenes with a POV camera that are still fresh and unique to watch despite having been overused since their introduction in this film.

I want to say that buying this film is a no brainer...tragically there is not film version to watch.  However, there is a version of it available on youtube that is of decent quality.  You may want to check it out before it inevitably disappears.

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