Through the Olive Trees (Abbas Kiarostami, 1994)
It is the final part of Abbas Kiarostami's Koker trilogy, and the plot revolves around the production of the second episode, Life, and Nothing More..., which itself was a revisitation of the first film, Where Is the Friend's Home?.
Centered on a small scene of Kiarostami’s Life, and Nothing More…, Through the Olive Trees tells the vibrant story of Hossein who is in love with the young student Tahereh. She refuses his marriage proposals through her grand mother but since they play a couple on the screen Hossein seems to have problems differencing himself from his character. Tahereh seems to be ignoring the young man and never responds to his proposals. However, many small details tells the viewer that she is in fact considering Hossein and that she is listening to him. She is just like, Mrs. Shiva states early in the film that she is stubborn and only get things her own way.
It illustrates how Iranian customs and conceptions of marriage are and how courtship is still very important for these people. There’s also a reality that the Western world tends to forget; there are still many people who are living miserably, in this case because of an earthquake but also because they couldn’t learn how to read and to write. The distinction is very clear and it is almost as if it separates those people from the peasants and the workers with the higher class of literates.
The thin line that Kiarostami often draws between film and reality plays perfectly with his minimalistic approach to cinema using few frames for a scene and long shots. Once again, he opens his film with an actor who presents himself as the actor who will portray the director in the movie we are about to watch. Then we are immediately reminded that we are watching a film and that even if everything seems naturalistic and has a feeling of cinéma vérité it is after all a fiction film.
Kiarostami’s film plays like a glimpse of human life that he would shot like a sweet documentary about souls encountering in a green garden. The final shot is mesmerizing, a long distance uncut shot of Hossein and Tahereh walking away and giving more or less a clue to the viewer on the issue of his ending. A great rendition of what film is, human life, mystery, and beauty.
Like the two other Kiarostami films I’ve seen prior to my watching of Through the Olive Trees, The Taste of Cherry and Close-Up, we discover genuine humans that live and breath before our eyes, a sheer simplicity in the grandeur of the meaning of the film. Kiarostami is a filmmaker I will be watching more films from in the months to come.