THROUGH THE OLIVE TREES is a slight, pleasant variation on Francois Truffaut's DAY FOR NIGHT. Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami fails to take full advantage of his film-within-a-film construct, but he tells his simple story well.
Just outside Tehran, a production crew prepares for a film shoot. The director, Mohamad (Mohamad Ali Keshavarz), begins his first day by selecting Tahereh (Tahereh Ladania) out of a group of women for the part of the ingenue. Later, during the filming of the first shot, Mohamad discovers that the
leading man in the scene has a stuttering problem, so he dispatches his executive assistant, Mrs. Shiva (Zarifeh Shiva), to find another male lead quickly.
Mrs. Shiva picks out Hossein (Hossein Rezai), a poor but earnest young worker, little knowing that Hossein is already in love with Tahereh. She also fails to realize that Tahereh refuses to speak to Hossein because her grandmother disapproves of his class standing, and because he had once proposed
marriage on the eve of an earthquake that killed her parents. The gap in communication between the two actors causes new problems on the set, which Mohamad seeks to remedy by ending the workday early and by threatening to replace his young leads. The plan works, and both actors show up the next
day for filming. Before the camera rolls, however, Mohamad listens to Hossein's poignant wish to marry the more cultured Tahereh, and decides to play matchmaker. Cunningly, Mohamad arranges for Hossein to walk Tahereh home after the shoot is finished. During the walk, Hossein pleads with Tahereh
to answer his proposal of marriage, but she ignores him for most of the way, until, finally, she gives him his answer.
THROUGH THE OLIVE TREES is a small-scale film with modest ambitions, but it very well may mark a turning point in the Western acceptance of Iranian cinema. The film is an agreeable, humanistic comedy that makes no serious political statement, but provides just the sort of nonthreatening product to
be praised (perhaps a bit overpraised) in the US and some parts of Europe, where Iran is still considered an outlaw country.
To be fair, OLIVE TREES is not entirely without political implications. It makes a few passing observations about Old versus New World values, the state of contemporary class conflicts, and the growing feminist awareness among young Iranian women. Notably, the argument between Mrs. Shiva and
Tahereh about whether to wear a peasant dress for her big scene suggests a generational clash among Iranian women. Also, the expectation that Hossein should serve the film crew tea between takes, even though he stars in their production, points up the inequities in the persistent caste system. And
Tahereh's refusal to call Hossein "Mister" in their scene together represents the disintegration of at least one old patriarchal custom.
Messages aside, THROUGH THE OLIVE TREES is a well-crafted film. Several sweeping shots by cinematographers Hossein Djafarian and Farhad Saba capture the beauty of the landscape, and many simpler shots are artfully composed and angled. The performances are natural and engaging. If director
Kiarostami (who also wrote, produced and edited) misses some prime opportunities for physical comedy in the film-within-a-film segments, he at least knows how to build up to a good verbal joke. THROUGH THE OLIVE TREES may be a minor effort, but it is satisfying on its own limited terms.
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