Just in time for the vicious stand-off that has erupted between Israel and its Palestinian neighbors, The Color of Olives is another wartime political documentary that explores its subject from the gut, rather than the heart or the mind. Director Carolina Rivas, admittedly upset with the Western media’s anti-Palestinian slant, gives the group without a country their own piece of senseless propaganda in return: a one-note journal of the Amer family’s daily struggle with the Israeli West Bank Wall—built around their house—that literally and figuratively imprisons them. She exalts her subject’s struggle to Christ-like mythological sacrifice; wistful silence replaces a potentially enlightening dialogue and glacial, art-serious expressions of destitution deny the region’s messy moral quandary. Munich this is not.
Just as Fahrenheit 9/11 inspired begrudged Democrats to let go of their reasoning and simply shout, “Bush sucks!,” The Color of Olives lures liberal, would-be humanitarians into a lulled submission to its politics. The response it garners among its New York audience will no doubt be similar to that of Darwin’s Nightmare, the comparably even-keeled exposé of commercial exploitation in Africa’s Lake Victoria area, which inspired one nearby viewer in a theater to proclaim that she will “never eat another fish fillet!” Darwin’s Nightmare, which sought the deeper, bureaucratic mess behind Africa’s destitution, was only guilty of tugging on its audience’s heartstrings a little; The Color of Olives, in all ways, reeks of facile moralism, painting Israelis as heartless tyrants and Palestinians as wholesome agrarians under siege, all the while denying common strife and talking down to everyone involved. Oh, Rivas wants you to act, but not by binding subject and viewer with common humanity. A student of the Christian Children’s Fund TV ads, the movie takes the shortest marketing route, distancing gluttonous American life from the endlessly sad Amers: diatribe where there should be dialogue.
Of course, dialogue is literally absent from The Color of Olives, a sign that Rivas may be prepared to take her devices to the most terrifying extremes, if it means shaking people up. The Amers virtually never appear speaking, instead only entering the frame through wistful gazes evoking their misery and shots of daily Israeli-imposed toil—ID checks, guard hassles—repeated so often they take on the effect of recurring nightmares, punctuated by the dreary sound of empty wind constantly played in the background. (Occasionally the Amers’ written observations intercut the action via slow, dramatic fade-ins.) Rivas uses this stylistic disconnection between subject and viewer to symbolize the family’s frustrated relationship with the wall around them, but the effect is cold, dehumanizing—not empathetic. These sequences might’ve been poignant had they been contextualized by the Amers’ universal life experiences, though that too seems to have been stripped in the process of toying with sound levels and cutting away film. The closest thing to hope and fantasy that the Amers seem to have is a richly colored flying bird illustrated on the wall. Everything else here has been sucked dry of its unstoppable human spirit—not by Israelis, but by the movie itself.