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Interview: Icíar Bollaín • Director

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"Paul Laverty leads me into unexpected territory"

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- After making two films shot far from European soil, Even the Rain and Katmandú, un espejo en el cielo, the Madrid-born director travels around Europe with The Olive Tree.

Interview: Icíar Bollaín  • Director

Icíar Bollaín returned to Europe after making Even the Rain [+see also:
film review
trailer
film focus
interview: Icíar Bollaín
film profile
]
(set in Bolivia) to shoot a screenplay written by her partner, Paul Laverty, who was fascinated by events that took place in the south of Spain: this was the inspiration for her road movie and story entitled The Olive Tree [+see also:
film review
trailer
film focus
interview: Icíar Bollaín
film profile
]
, filmed/produced by Spain and Germany. 

Cineuropa: Why is an olive tree at the centre of your film and not an oak or carob tree?
Icíar Bollaín: Because the film is based on true events, on a story that Paul read about: some years ago, thousands of olive trees were uprooted in Spain so that they could be used as decorations all over Europe and even in China. A group of farmers in Castellón got together and demanded that a law be passed to protect them, and the ransacking stopped. The news story was entitled Grandfather’s journey, and told the story of one of those olive trees as it travelled across northern Europe. It fascinated him, because he saw it as a metaphor for so many things: what the tree represents for the Mediterranean Basin, how old it is (it’s a piece of heritage, a piece of history), and the idea of treating it like an object: the consumerist concept of "I’m rich, so I’ll plant a centuries-old olive tree in the garden". But… what happens to the elderly people who take care of them? We went to see the trees and were struck by the way they looked like scuptures; Paul talked to people and wrote the screenplay.

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Did you have a "tree casting" to choose the emigrant?
The artistic director saw about a hundred and showed me about sixty, and the one you see on the screen is the one that most drew our attention: it was impressive, eight metres in diameter; it had to be of a certain height, tall enough to make a person feel dizzy when they climb it: it’s six metres tall. These olive trees have been through a lot over the course of their long lives, some of them are missing branches and others are missing parts of their trunks, but the one we chose was whole. And, looking at it from a certain angle, we noticed that it had a sort of face: the screenplay stated that it had the face of a dragon, something that we would have built with plaster of Paris, but in the end we didn’t need to.

In the film you address important issues with simplicity: is less more?
All of this was in the screenplay, which has a simple, fairy-tale feel, but also addresses a number of things on different levels. It had to have that tone, that what happens to the characters is a ‘travesty’. Conveying this was essential for it to be credible. I also worked on this with the musician, everything had to seem real, but with a fairy-tale feel to it: "Once upon a time, a teenage criminal, a grandfather and an olive tree…".

What have young audiences said to you about the film?
Young people really identify with the relationship between Alma, the protagonist, and her grandfather: at the casting sessions with the actors, I asked them about their relationship with their grandparents and all of them had one because they, including my children, belong to a generation that has spent a lot of time with elderly people. This relationship is beautiful: Paul takes me to places that I would never have gone alone, I would never have built a story around a tree or the relationship between a grandparent and their grandchild.

Was it easier to film in Europe than in Bolivia or Nepal, which were the settings for your previous films?
It was easier being on home soil: a pleasure. And shooting in the village went really well: I had a similar experience with Flores de otro mundo, because people got involved; we had local actors and they suggested things. Other films that require the effort of travelling to another country are great fun, but it’s always good to work within the context of your own customs and in your native tongue.

How did you choose your lead actress, Anna Castillo?
I held open casting sessions: I saw famous actresses and less well-known actresses, with and without experience. I was looking for someone with a lot of charisma, and Anna is young but she also has theatrical experience: she speaks clearly and takes control of the scene. She surprised me as soon as I saw her, because you never get tired of watching her, you don’t get bored because she’s interesting and communicative. She can be severe and tender, and gets things wrong sometimes, but she has a lot of potential.

(Translated from Spanish)

photogallery

international title: The Olive Tree
original title: El olivo
country: Spain, Germany
sales agent: Seville International [CA]
year: 2016
directed by: Icíar Bollaín
screenplay: Paul Laverty
cast: Anna Castillo, Javier Gutiérrez, Pep Ambrós
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