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THROUGH THE OLIVE TREES (Zire darakhatan zeyton) (director/writer: Abbas Kiarostami; cinematographers: Hossein Djafarian/Farhad Saba; editor: Abbas Kiarostami; cast: Hossein Rezai (Hossein), Mohamad Ali Keshavarz (the director), Tahereh Ladania (Tahereh), Mahbanou Darabin (the grandmother), Farhad Kheradmand (Farad), Zarifeh Shiva (Mrs. Shiva), Astadouli Babani, (Teacher); Runtime: 108; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Abbas Kiarostami; Miramax; 1994-Iran-in Farsi with English subtitles)
“There’s a reason Kiarostami is considered one of the best filmmakers in the world today, so that even one of his minor films cannot be easily dismissed.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

This is the final leg of a trilogy that started with “Where is the Friend’s Home?” and followed with “And Life Goes On,” with this one affecting me least. Abbas Kiarostami (“Close-up”/”A Taste of Cherry”) intended it as a comedy that revolves around the making of a film in the mountain village of Koker, in the same remote region in northern Iran where an earthquake struck in 1990 and destroyed much of the area and killed 50,000 and where he filmed the second leg of his trilogy telling about the tragedy.

“Olive Trees” is a fictionalized take on how the people are surviving after the earthquake. The director interviews survivors but lets the story be mostly about the persistent efforts of an illiterate local ex-masonry worker named Hosein who wishes to be an actor since the earthquake and is unsuccessfully courting a young educated girl named Tahereh, who lost her parents during the earthquake and has reluctantly signed on to be an extra in the film, but won’t speak to Hossein. Her family (now her grandmother is in charge since the death of her parents) refuses to give their consent, even though he continually pesters them and the girl. This makes things tough for the likable director of the film (Mohamad Ali Keshavarz) and the prodding production assistant Mrs. Shiva (Zarifeh Shiva), because the two have one scene together where they play a couple who got married right after the earthquake and she refuses to look happy or say anything that’s not in the script. What the two share in common is a stubborn nature and the ability to stick to their guns once they make up their mind. Hossein tries hard but can’t get Tahereh to talk to him, other than when they are reading their lines. When the shoot is over, Hossein follows her home at the director’s urging as she takes a short-cut through the olive trees and it ends inconclusively with her still refusing to speak to him. It’s a long take with Hossein badgering her to respond and the girl walking crisply on in silence, which has a mesmerizing effect as they begin to appear like dots in the countryside. Kiarostami invites the viewer to draw his or her own conclusion as to whether or not they will ever get together. Borrowing a line from Clark Gable in GWTW, “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.”

Though it has flashes of brilliance, especially for those not familiar with Iran and its subcultures, the simple story line failed to connect with me and the lead characters were too dull and annoying to make me want to care about their romantic complications. On a deeper level, as the film begins to fade from memory, it seems to be asking unanswerable questions about the differences between a movie and reality (life as art) and questions the problems faced by filmmakers as they try to tap into cinema’s unexplored potential. The filmmaker can be compared to the survivors of such a tragedy, as they also must overcome poor conditions, a public not prepared to take chances to see (or do) something different and the unpredictable human emotions that affect all life. On that level, the film was stimulating as an intellectual experience. There’s a reason Kiarostami is considered one of the best filmmakers in the world today, so that even one of his minor films cannot be easily dismissed.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”