Home  •  About  •  Contact  •  Twitter  •  Google+  •  Facebook  •  Tumblr  •  Youtube  •  RSS Feed
The Tree

The Tree

By Ben Nicholson • March 25th, 2012
Static Mass Rating: 3/5
Artificial Eye

Original release: August 5th, 2011
Certificate (UK): 15
Running time: 96 minutes

Country of origin: France/Australia

Director: Julie Bertuccelli
Writers: Julie Bertuccelli, Elizabeth J. Mars, Judy Pascoe (novel)

Cast: Charlotte Gainsbourg, Aden Young, Morgana Davies, Marton Csokas, Christian Byers

“For man is a tree of the field” ~ Deuteronomy 20:19

Grief and the loss of a loved one is something that every person has to overcome at some point in their life and as such, Julie Bertuccelli’s second feature film, The Tree is concerned with a subject matter that is pertinent to all of us. It studies loss and a variety of different coping mechanisms and attempts to forget the pain that it has caused, as well as ways to deny it all together.

Based on Judy Pascoe’s novel (originally envisaged as a screenplay) Our Father Who Art in The Tree, the film sees the O’Neill family living in a ramshackle house in Queensland beneath the awning of the branches of a giant Moreton Bay Fig.

The Tree

When the father, Peter (Aden Young) has a heart attack and dies at the foot of the tree, the rest of the family have to try to come to terms with their loss or find some way of dealing with it. The mother, Dawn (Charlotte Gainsbourg) finds this incredibly difficult and spends the first part of the film terribly depressed and makes no real effort to care for her children. The children each cope in different ways but it is the daughter who we concentrate on most.

As her father’s favourite, the consistently bratish Simone (Morgana Davies) has the hardest time accepting her father’s passing and begins to hear her father’s voice coming from the Moreton Bay Fig and it is assumed that Peer’s spirit now lives there. As the tree’s root spread and it begins to endanger the houses around it, the family are caught in the turmoil of whether to pull it down or not.

The Tree is a beautifully shot film and the titular character and its surrounding locale are stunningly rendered. On Judy Pascoe’s website she states that she wanted to make the point “that even in the blandest Australian suburb the power of the landscape is inescapable” and this is most certainly accomplished by the visuals of the director and her cinematographer Nigel Bluck.

The Tree

The environment is framed wonderfully and the local wildlife are also given their fair share of exposure which a wayward bat making an appearance while the toilet is infested with frogs. All of this serves to give a very striking feeling of a specific place.

The cast are also on very good form with Charlotte Gainsbourg leading the pack well. I don’t think that her performance is quite as sensational as some others seem to have claimed, but she gives Dawn a very real fragility after she has recovered from the initial depression. This is pitched most astutely in her fledgling relationship with local bathroom salesman George (Marton Csokas).

The Tree

Morgana Davies is the standout of the children playing Simone’s refusal to believe that her father is gone with a naivety that keeps you on her side even when she is being her most obstructive. The three brothers are also good with the eldest, Tim (Christian Byers) making a real attempt to become the man of the house despite his formative years.

There were, however, a couple of major issues that I have with the film. Firstly, whilst the grief is handled very well in the way that it is depicted, the narrative jumps in time that are made undercut the effect somewhat. When Dawn told George that her husband died 8 months ago this completely shocked me as I had no idea that so much time had passed. It felt to me that the audience maybe had needed to spend some more time seeing this period and a little more emotional time to be given to the family to allow us to see them in their grief.

The Tree

The other thing which bothered me, and I am well aware that this is probably an issue of taste and that many other people will not find it problematic, but which nonetheless diluted the film’s impact for me was the hulking presence of the tree itself.

In terms of a metaphor, in both symbolising Peter and the family’s grief for him, it felt incredibly on the nose and as we see the family clinging to his memory and refusing the cut down the tree whilst it slowly destroys their house, it was all just a bit too much for me. The fact then that the whole plot is wrapped up with a deus ex machina that seems to undermine any emotional journey that the characters needed to take meant that the tree itself was my least favourite part of the movie.

So worthy performances and nice cinematography are certainly to praise, but the extended metaphor of the title and a lack of time to allow their coping mechanisms to resonate meant that the O’Neil family and their tragedy never really moved me as it perhaps should have.

Ben Nicholson

Ben Nicholson

Ben has had a keen love of moving images since his childhood but after leaving school he fell truly in love with films. His passion manifests itself in his consumption of movies (watching films from all around the globe and from any period of the medium’s history with equal gusto), the enjoyment he derives from reading, talking and writing about cinema and being behind the camera himself having completed his first co-directed short film in mid-2011.

His favourite films include things as diverse as The Third Man, In The Mood For Love, Badlands, 3 Iron, Casablanca, Ran and Grizzly Man to name but a few.

Ben has his own film site, ACHILLES AND THE TORTOISE, and you can follow him on Twitter @BRNicholson.

© 2012 STATIC MASS EMPORIUM . All Rights Reserved. Powered by METATEMPUS | creative.timeless.personal.   |   DISCLAIMER, TERMS & CONDITIONS