Through slow accumulation of workaday details, “The Color of Olives” offers a sympathetic portrait of a Palestinian family that stoically survives while virtually imprisoned in their own home by Israeli barricades on the West Bank. Mexican helmer Carolina Rivas obviously intends her slow-paced and contemplative doc as a testimony to the indomitability of the human spirit under dire circumstances. But the coolly distanced approach to her subjects — who never are allowed to directly address the camera — give the pic the off-putting air of an anthropological study.
Rivas focuses on the hardscrabble life in Masha, a village 25 kilometers from Tel Aviv, which has been divided by the controversial West Bank Wall. Because Hani Amer refused to move from the land his family has farmed for generations, he now finds himself living — with his wife and their six children — in a house surrounded by electrified fences and military checkpoints.
Whenever he and his family try to harvest oranges, olives and flowers from their field, or whenever the children try to attend a nearby school, they must suffer the indignity of waiting interminably for gates to be unlocked by none-too-attentive Israeli soldiers. Occasionally, the family claims, their house is pelted with rocks by youths from a nearby Israeli settlement.
Rather than directly interview the Amers, Rivas uses title cards to quote various family members. (Hani is affectingly eloquent as he speaks — or, more precisely, is quoted as speaking — about his ties to the land.) Unfortunately, the helmer also dwells at great length on carefully framed, self-consciously beautiful shots that offer little more than empty aesthetics. An unconscionably extended close-up of flies feasting on a dead bird is only the most conspicuous of her visual excesses.