The Koker Trilogy
Through the Olive Trees
Abbas Kiarostami first came to international attention for this wondrous, slyly self-referential series of films set in the rural northern-Iranian town of Koker. Poised delicately between fiction and documentary, comedy and tragedy, the lyrical fables in The Koker Trilogy exemplify both the gentle humanism and the playful sleight of hand that define the director’s sensibility. With each successive film, Kiarostami takes us deeper into the behind-the-scenes “reality” of the film that preceded it, heightening our understanding of the complex network of human relationships that sustain both a movie set and a village. The result is a gradual outward zoom that reveals the cosmic majesty and mystery of ordinary life.
The third and final disc in Criterion’s box set The Koker Trilogy presents Through the Olive Trees in its original aspect ratio of 1.66:1. Presented in 1080p/24hz high-definition, this new digital presentation comes from a 4K restoration scanned from the 35mm original camera negative.
By a very decent margin Through the Olive Trees offers what I would say is the best-looking presentation in the set. Colours lean a bit yellow, which makes blues look cyan (which was also noticeable in Where Is the Friend’s House?) but the look at the very least feels suiting, and it didn’t feel too heavy. It also didn’t seem to negatively impact other aspects of the picture, like the black levels, which look pretty good. Outside of one small sequence the image is razor sharp, delivering excellent details, textures, and depth. Film grain is very fine but rendered beautifully and remains natural and clear throughout the film.
There is one short early on in the truck where the image takes on a dirtier, dupey look, but it’s short-lived. A couple of other long shots also look a bit softer but it looks inherent to the film’s original photography. Rather shockingly I can’t recall any bit of print damage ever popping up in the film, after the previous films still showed stains and even mold. This one ends up being pretty spotless and a stunner overall.
The film’s audio is, like the others, presented in lossless PCM 1.0 mono. It’s clear and has a decent bit of fidelity behind it, coming off sounding the best. Music is low key but sharp and clear, and the track never comes off distorted or edgy.
The previous titles, while not packed, contained some excellent material (the second film even including a commentary), so it makes a bit disappointing that this film gets the shaft, if just a little bit. I did rather enjoy the 14-minute interview Criterion includes with Kiarostami’s son, Ahmad Kiarostami. He talks primarily about his father’s art, his influences, and how important these films, particularly And Life Goes On, played into his life and career. He also talks about specific elements in his film, like how he enjoyed trapping characters in vehicles, and explains why that appealed to his father.
That interview ends up being a more personal one, which makes it one of the better ones in the set, but we also receive a strong discussion between Jamsheed Akrami and Godfrey Cheshire, who are here to talk about the trilogy, which also involves the backstory behind each film’s production. They also cover other films from around the time, like Close-Up and Homework (the latter of which is included on the disc for Where Is the Friend’s House?), and what Iranians, especially the hard-liners, thought of his work. There’s also some funny bits of information, like how Farhad Kheradmand, the actor playing Kiarostami in the second film, couldn’t actually drive a car (which is more than likely why he looks so apprehensive most of the time).
Both interviews are excellent but it feels light in the end, offering the least amount of material of the three discs. At the very least it would have been great to get some sort of follow-up to the events of Through the Olive Trees (though in fairness these are teased at in an episode of Cinéma de notre temps on the previous disc).
Though the two interviews found on the disc are good this title feels light in the supplements department. But it offers the strongest presentation, which is clean and razor-sharp.