Film Review: The Color of Olives
Tuesday, March 8th, 2016
The Color of Olives is a film about defiance and the strength of the human spirit. It tells the story of one family’s resolute stand against an oppressor who has tried – unsuccessfully – to take their home. Hani and Monira Amer have 8 children. Sadly, two of them have died, but the other 6 are alive and well. The family lives in a very special house on the edge of the village of Masha in Palestine’s West Bank. From their front window, they look out onto a wall that stands 20 feet high. It is an evil, grey concrete monstrosity that is higher than the Berlin wall and much, much longer. On their part of it, the family have painted flowers, lush vegetation, rolling green hills and a phoenix, rising from the ashes of the Intifada.
The film tells a compelling story at a very human level. It has won many awards, including: Courage in Filmmaking, Best Documentary, Artistic Achievement and several Special Mention awards at international film festivals.
It is a dark film, with very little dialogue. Shot entirely with natural light, the film follows the Amer family going about their daily lives over the course of a week. Their daily lives are different to any I have ever seen, because their house stands alone inside a militarised zone. There is a small pedestrian gate through which the children come and go to school, but to take any vehicles anywhere the family is reliant on the Israeli soldiers to open the main gates, and then to allow them through a series of checkpoints. Theirs is the only home inside this zone. They are the only family who refused to move. Hani says: “The bond with this land is in our blood, in our roots. Where do they want me to go? They can do what they want to me, kill me, it doesn’t matter. But as long as I’m alive I’m going to defend my land and my home, with all my strength.”
When the walls and fences started going up, the family was told they had to move. Their greenhouse and chicken coop, which provided much of their livelihood, were knocked down, and two rooms on the side of their house were demolished to make way for a military road. The family stood fast, and so the walls were built around them. They were locked in, like in a prison, although the guards came and went. Often the guards were gone for hours on end, leaving the family alone inside their home, inside the walls and fences. The two children who died – daughter Fairuz and son Jihan – had been sick, but the parents couldn’t get out through the gates and checkpoints to take the children to the hospital, because the guards were not there. Monira is resolute. She tells everyone she has 8 children. Not 6. Two of them may have died (unnecessarily) but she is the mother of 8 children.
Over the course of the week, we see life through the eyes of Hani, Monira and the 6 remaining children: Nidal (20), Hisham (16), Asia (14), Ishak (12), Maisa (6) and Shaddad (4). One of my favourite scenes in the film shows Shaddad digging under the fence so he can crawl beneath it to go out and meet his father coming home from his day’s labour. Maisa sees this and digs a little deeper so that she can get out too. The young children find a resourceful way to get past the fences. They will not be kept away from their father.
As with any dark film, there is dark humour. In one scene, Amer is taking his donkey cart out to the fields to work. He has waited 6 hours for the guards to come and open the gate, and when they do, the donkey pulling the cart refuses to budge. Amer has to heave and push and cajole the donkey before it will move an inch. The defiant one is defied by his donkey.
In another scene, the family is leaving by car, and to get through the checkpoints they have to show their identity papers. It’s the same guards. It’s a single checkpoint, and the only thing inside the checkpoint is the Amer family home. But to get through the checkpoint they have to show their papers every time – in and out.
Life carries on. Hani tends to the land, Monira looks after the family and the children go to school. As Monira says: “The only thing I can advise my children is to be patient. In this way they will be strong and resolute. Where can we go? There’s no alternative.”
In one of the final scenes of the film, the family makes the journey to the town of Qalqiliya. It’s a big adventure, because it’s the first time in four years that the road has been open. There is a derelict amusement park with a rickety little train and a small zoo. The young children enjoy riding the train. Underneath faded paintings of lions and tigers, there are just two giraffe – a mother and child. The whole family takes great pleasure in feeding the mother as she cranes her neck over the fence. Eldest son Nidal says: “To be a child in Palestine is a little difficult. But on the other hand, we learn to do many things. We learn from the difficulties.”
For all the darkness of the film, and for all the trouble they go through every day, Hani, Monira and their children are a family who face their challenges and get on with their lives. They have made their choice. The land is theirs and they will not be moved from it, no matter what is done to them. The human spirit stands straight and tall. Even when surrounded by high walls and electric fences, it will not be defeated.
This is a powerful film that really makes you think. And that is always a good thing.
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About the Reviewer
David Horne is the Co-Founder and CFO of Alchemiya Media. He trained as a Chartered Accountant and has many years experience in the media industry, including 3 years as a Finance Director with the BBC and 8 years as CFO of two companies listed on the London Stock Exchange. A non-Muslim, he fasted with the rest of the Alchemiya team for the entire month of Ramadan last summer and wrote several blog posts about the experience.
Read his blogs on LinkedIn.