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The Cinematic Verses

THE OLIVE HARVEST

By: Jamil Moledina


A man returns to his village in Palestine to a hero’s welcome, praised for being a political

Prisoner. Although Israeli settlers are encroaching on their olive groves, the main conflict of the film arises when he falls for the same girl his younger brother has secretly been courting. The story is a drama between two brothers, two sisters, a mother, a father, and an olive tree that takes care of the village. Although the film is set in the middle of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, the story stays focused on the two brothers, and the younger sister Raeda (Raeda Adon). In doing so, the film makes its points gently and affectionately, in the context of family, tradition, and love – universal values that surreptitiously bind the audience to the main characters.

The film does show the dehumanizing experience of getting through checkpoints, and the squeezing pressure that Israeli settlements place on Palestinian farmlands, but these issues are just the background for the family struggle at the forefront of the picture. This delivery stands in stark contrast to the documentary method, or the confrontational style of other passionate filmmakers like Michael Moore or Oliver Stone.

Instead, writer-director Hanna Elias gives us a beautiful and touching account using classic storytelling to connect international audiences with a people that many only know from the alarmist evening news depictions of kids throwing rocks in the street , or burnt out busses from suicide bombers. Elias shows us the human side of Palestine, free of name calling, and rhetorical arguments that both sides employ. Besides writing the film based on his own relationship with his village and its olive trees, Elias used mostly non-actors, and used their actual first names for the characters they play. Adding the authority of his gentle, authentic voice, is the fact that virtually the entire crew of the film is Israeli, and the project is funded primarily by Kamran Elahian, a Silicon Vally philanthropist. 

Yet that struggle between the two brothers and the one girl slowly becomes an allegory for the tension between Israel and Palestine over the same land. The younger brother, Taher (Taher Najeeb) is well educated and well off, and offers to help the older brother get back on his feet. Meanwhile the older brother, Mazen (Mazen Saade) has been disenfranchised, and returns with little bit a rich sense of history. Taher has been courting Raeda for months, but since he hesitates to announce his intentions to the village, out of respect for the tradition that elder brothers should marry first, Mazen begins to fall for the same girl. The analogy to the political struggle is not perfect, which actually masks the connection well, but as the film progresses, the connection becomes clear. The ending itself, without giving it away, fits perfectly.

Parallel to the developing love triangle at the center of the picture is another familiar story, that of the child who leaves home and goes to the city, only to be ostracized once she returns. The older sister, Areen (Areen Umari) faces an uphill climb with her traditional father, Muhammad (Muhammad Bacri), who binds family loyalty to the olive groves. The conflict between tradition and progress, condensed into the framework of a parent and child, serves as an example of how this deeply Palestinian film can seem like it has more to do with the audience than the subject. The universality of themes in Elias’ work provide effortless access to those distanced from the struggle of the people in that part of the Middle East, making this a story that resonates with anyone, regardless of whether they speak Arabic, Hebrew, or English, or whether they pray once a week, five times a day, or never.

For its virtuoso storytelling, intense emotional range, and the astonishing accomplishment of adding a second and third dimension to the international perception of the Palestinian people, The Olive Harvest gets a BA (brilliant achievement).