The Golden Harvest


Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

The Golden Harvest
"Yunis, who is also a novelist, covers a lot of ground here but it never feels as though we are only being served up the easy route."

When it comes to olives, we're told, everyone thinks their village grows the best - and hearing various farmers and olive oil makers talk about them with such love is likely to have you heading to the kitchen with a Mediterranean recipe book.

It's that love that suffuses Alia Yunis' documentary - from the draw olives have for her, because of her Palestinian heritage to the branches that connect the Middle East and Africa to Greece, Italy and Spain stretching back for thousands of years. And, like a lot of love stories, this one turns out to be complicated, with the director blending in subjects as diverse as a consideration of the occupation of the West Bank, which has had a devastating affect on some Palestinian olive growers to the notes that good oil should have, to a town co-operative in Marinaleda, Spain.

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Yunis, who is also a novelist, covers a lot of ground here but it never feels as though we are only being served up the easy route. Facts are crammed in, from the way that Spanish olives find their way into Italian oil to the manner in which they are harvested and crushed for the purpose, going well beyond what you might be able to glean in a few minutes of surfing the net.

The pace is enjoyably brisk without leaving you breathless and Yunis has also done her homework when it comes to those she interviews. Most of them have the same deep rooted love of olives as herself and it's infectious. "It smells in here," says one chef over a bowl, "like I'm falling in love", while, elsewhere, another man speaks with fondness of how to tell the age of a tree. They build a picture of just how culturally significant - to many different cultures - growing and eating olives and the oil from them is, with Yunis showing the links back to Roman times with the lovely illustration of Monte Testaccio in Italy's capital - an artificial hill comprised of discarded Roman amphora once used to carry oil from place to place. While the facts are here, Yunis skills as a storyteller are what counts, as she smoothly moves from one location or idea to another without losing her thread, acknowledging the, sometimes complex, politics, without getting mired in them.

The documentarian has a light touch, blending serious topics, such as the way that young people no longer want to go into the traditional industries of their parents or the push and pull between regular and organic farming with lighter weight recipes and observations. The score from Iraqi composer Oscama Abdulrasol, meanwhile, adds atmosphere and a sense of geographical place without being cliched or overbearing. "This is not me being symbolic," Yunis insists when she talks about the "bitter, sweet and complex" notes of the olive, although we know that, beneath the humour, metaphors are there for the picking.

Reviewed on: 29 Mar 2020
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The Golden Harvest packshot
Consideration of the history of olives and olive oil manufacture.

Director: Alia Yunis

Writer: Alia Yunis

Year: 2019

Runtime: 85 minutes

Country: Jordan, United Arab Emirates, Spain, Greece, Italy


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