Jaén, Virgin And Extra


Reviewed by: Andrew Robertson

Jaén, Virgin And Extra
"Gentle, entertaining, functional."

Jaen is a region of Spain, described as the lungs of Spain and the grove of Rome. This is a film that is as much a commercial statement of intent as it is a fascinating documentary. It manages to entertain and educate without feeling cloyingly commercial, sufficiently well constructed and produced as to appear smooth without being oleaginous.

There's history - a hill that's a few centimetres of topsoil on top of 40 odd metres of shattered amphorae, jars spun in a process we'll see from the red clays of Jaen and filled with the verdant oils of various grades from the millions of trees that cover its own hills. There's industrial archaeology, an exploration of the nascent field of oleoturismo, and food - do not see this film hungry.

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It is a feast for the eyes, the landscapes are gorgeous, but speaking to Spanish chefs we see dishes prepared using the titular ingredients. A gazpacho sandwich with quenelles of gazpacho ice-cream, a foam made of olive oil, and 'cloud bread' made with tomato water draws the eyes even before it is described as melting in one's mouth, a temptation made more difficult by later sights of oil in wine glasses being swirled and swished and drunk neat.

That might have you balk - or even boak - but it's deserved for a product of this grave. The small batch bottles are lovingly illustrated, there's mention also of wild olive oil, produced in quantities so small that it makes some craft gins look profligate. There's talk of sommeliers and it's in those realms of liquid flavour that Virgin & Extra pitches its wares. For all there's talk of food, it's the farmers who sit with glasses and their bottles in front of them that are indicative. The generic term Cosechera is used in the same way 'fisherman' covers the impoverished locals of Bait and also multi-millionaires who feed Leviathan.

There's beauty here - a sequence of night harvesting looks like an alien invasion - and business too - beyond the fundamental commercial enterprise of film-making there's a harvesting montage that feels like padding and a set of instructions to pickers that feels like it's about justifying price. There's history - I remember being told about folk having to buy olive oil from the chemist by my Edinburgh family, and that for my grandfather's ears... Yet here is ultra-premium product, one whose history goes back millennia, and just after the turn of this one - 2004 is mentioned as a date when the now prevalent focus on quality over quantity was controversial.

The film isn't - it's gentle, entertaining, functional. Not the high art of The Challenge or Glassmount but nor the crass commercialism of Rio I Love You. This is the kind of film that finds a natural home at festivals. Eye For Film saw it at Edinburgh's in 2019, where it screens as part of a delightful film and food theme, and if anything were only disappointed that there wasn't time just after to try and track some down.

There's a joke that I could make, that olive oil got a standalone movie before Black Widow, but it's deeper than it sounds. Art and commerce are usually close companions. Here the combination may well be to your taste.

Reviewed on: 25 Jun 2019
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Documentary about the Jaén region and olive oil.

Director: Jose Luis Lopez-Linares

Year: 2018

Runtime: 90 minutes

Country: Spain


SSFF 2018
EIFF 2019

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