Kiarostami takes meta-narrative gamesmanship to masterful new heights in the final installment of his celebrated Koker trilogy. Unfolding “behind the scenes” of the shooting of the previous film in the series, Zendegi va digar hich [And Life Goes On] (1992), Zire darakhatan zeyton [Through the Olive Trees] traces the complications that arise when the romantic misfortune of one of the actors – a lovelorn young man who pines for the woman cast as his wife even though, in real life, she will have nothing to do with him – creates turmoil on set and leaves the hapless director caught in the middle. An ineffably lovely, gentle human comedy steeped in the folkways of Iranian village life, this Pirandellian pastoral peels away layer after layer of artifice as it investigates the elusive, alchemical relationship between cinema and reality.
A little nameless flower
in the crack of a huge mountain
“I believe the films of Iranian filmmaker Abbas Kiarostami are extraordinary. Words cannot relate my feelings. I suggest you see his films; and then you will see what I mean. Satyajit Ray passed away and I got very upset. But having watched Kiarostami’s films, I thank God because now we have a very good substitute for him.”
“This film was written based on a scene in Life and Nothing More..., of the wedding between a man and a woman. From the moment of its conception, Through the Olive Trees thus clearly refers back to the director’s previous film; but this does not mean that Kiarostami was particularly interested in the cinematic device of the ‘film within a film’. Quite the opposite: [...] this element was completely missing from the first draft of the film. ‘I didn’t have the least intention as such,’ Kiarostami explains, of making a film about the shooting of a film. Actually, I didn’t want to do such a thing, because I’d already done something similar in Close-Up, and I didn’t want to repeat myself. I just wanted to tell the story of Hossein and Tahereh, and tried to find the best way to do it. While I was preparing the project I had this idea and went along with it, while I was working on new ideas for the film’.
The labyrinthine game of mirrors that constitutes Through the Olive Trees should not therefore cloud our basic recognition that the film is above all – for the first time in Kiarostami’s career – a love story. A story of a difficult and troubled love, certainly, but definitely not the usual story of cinematic ups and downs full of tension and trivial events, as required by the conventions of the typical film genre.”