Olive Trees of Justice, The: James Blue’s Only French Film, Shot in Algeria during the Algerian War

The first and only narrative feature by American documentarian James Blue, The Olive Trees of Justice holds the distinction of being the only French film to have been shot in Algeria during the Algerian War.

In order to get around the authorities, the film was made under the pretext that it was a documentary about the wine industry.

The Olive Trees of Justice depicts the Algerian struggle for independence from the French by concentrating on a young “pied-noir” (Frenchman of Algerian descent), who returns to Algiers to visit his dying father.

In 2020, it was restored in 4K by L’Atelier d’Images and Thierry Derocles in collaboration with The James and Richard Blue Foundation with the support of The Film Foundation, James Ivory and CNC—Centre national du cinéma et de l’image animée, at L’Image Retrouvée (Paris) from a fine grain print preserved at Les Archives Françaises du Film.

 

image from the film OLIVE TREES OF JUSTICE

The story unfolds as Jean returns home to visit his dying father and recalls his childhood. His memories of boyhood on his father’s farm are told in flashbacks with a lush serenity that contrasts to the teeming, tank-filled streets of contemporary Algiers.

Blue gives “the film a neorealist tone by shooting in a documentary style and enrolling a cast largely composed of non-professional actors.

Recoiling from the approaching death of his father, the reduced economic circumstances of his family, and the chaos of civil war, Jean, the son of a French colonialist, retreats to memories of the years he spent growing up on the family farm on the Mitidja plain outside Algiers.

One childhood friend, Said, is now a revolutionary. Another friend, Boralfa, is his mother’s kitchen servant.

At his father’s funeral, Jean argues with Boralfa over the future of Algeria, but refuses to relinquish his childhood bonds, or his identity as an Algerian.

 

Trailer

Blue tells a powerful story of common people living and struggling in their daily lives, while providing valuable testimony to the troubling complexity of the French-Algerian conflict at the time.

The film was the inaugural winner of the Critics Prize at the 1962 Cannes Film Fest.