Hanna Elias’ Palestinian film The Olive Harvest (2003) is an interesting work in that it’s a political film that is also not a political film. While its main character, Mazen (Mazen Saade), has just been released from an Israeli prison at the beginning of the film, and the background of the Israeli occupation and “colonization” hang heavily over the proceedings, these things are very much less than the whole story. It’s also of some note that Mazen, the former political prisoner, is not a political activist. That role goes to his younger brother, Taher (Taher Najeeb), with whom Mazen argues that the cycle of fighting has to be broken if peace and normalcy are ever to be achieved, that fighting only feeds on itself. But even this is far from the whole story of The Olive Harvest, which also seeks to portray the inner-Palestinian conflict between tradition and modernity. The film represents a homegrown culture clash that’s as much of a problem as anything brought in from the outside.
These aspects of the film are splendidly handled, and the characters are well drawn. However, it must be admitted that the ultimate rivalry between the two brothers of the girl they both want to marry, Raeda (Raeda Adon), isn’t a lot more than soap opera dressed up in exotic clothing. It’s effective enough on that level—and the ambiguity of the film’s abrupt ending makes it seem a little deeper—but it’s still on the sudsy side. Still—and this is important—the film is so visually stunning in its depiction of a culture about which most of us know very little that you might not mind. In his debut feature, Elias proves himself as a master of color and light. His camera style is also notable in that he favors a very effective fluid style of a kind that is unusual for a low-budget film. These things and his obvious humanity do much to counter the less effective side of his narrative and make the film well worth a look.
— reviewed by Ken Hanke