After the sudden death of her father, 8-year-old Simone (Morgana Davies) shares a secret with her mother Dawn (Charlotte Gainsbourg): she's convinced her father speaks to her through the leaves of her favourite tree - a giant Moreton Bay Fig - and he's come back to protect them. But the new bond between mother and daughter is threatened when Dawn starts a relationship with George (Marton Csokas), the plumber called in to remove the tree's troublesome roots. As the branches of the tree start to infiltrate the house, the family is forced to make an agonising decision.
Review by Louise Keller:
Letting go of the old and embracing the new is the theme of Judy Pascoe's adaptation of her novel, in which a magnificent, sprawling Moreton Bay fig tree plays a key role for a young family trying to cope with loss. It's a theme that no doubt resonates with director Julie Bertucelli; her touching 2003 debut feature Since Otar Left echoes similar sentiments, although this film lacks the same depth. The Tree, selected as Closing Night Film at the 2010 Cannes Film Festival, is an internal film that grapples with intangibles and powerful emotions.
The best thing in the film is pretty blonde 8 year old Morgana Davies, with wide blue eyes and angelic features, who lights up the screen as Simone, the little girl who senses her father's presence in the tree. I like the way Simone is seen lying upside down between the prominent tree roots, reflecting the state of her world. We have far more empathy for her than for Charlotte Gainsbourg's Dawn, the grieving mother of three who struggles to cope when life falls apart after her husband Peter (Aden Young) dies. I felt more irritated by Gainsbourg's mooching and pouting than sympathetic. Christian Byers as Tim makes an impact as Dawn's oldest son, who is ready to make his own mark on the world and bridges the world of the children and that of the adults.
Striking to look at, the film's isolated rural Australian setting creates mood and cinematographer Nigel Bluck effectively showcases the imposing tree of the title, as both a comforting and brooding presence. There is a backdrop of pink clouds in the early morning, the ominous black of night as bats make their nocturnal rounds and through a heavy curtain of rain as a cyclone approaches in the film's climactic moments. The music score is at times reminiscent of the theme from The Piano.
The film's rewards are slight and patience is needed through the frustrations and contrivances. The relationship between Dawn and Marton Csokas' George is less than satisfying; the power of this story has not been transmitted from book to screen. Little things bother me, such as how can an 8 year old girl (even with help of her three brothers) decorate the tree's branches with Chinese lanterns, when sleeping in its branches to protect it from being cut down?
The showcase of Australian wild-life - frogs in the toilet, bats in the kitchen, a rosella in the greenery, a joey on the roadway and a gecko on a rock - somehow seem to be thrown in as a tourist promotion. These might be small things, but it is the smallest thing that can shatter the reality when an emotional journey does not satisfy.
All the children however, are superb - those spontaneous scenes under a shower after a beach visit and the imaginary games as Simone and her friend play out their lives when they are 18 or 38 are magical.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
As I am (perhaps overly) fond of saying, we each respond to films through the prism of our own unique experiences and personalities. Take for example Takeshi Kitano's widely applauded Hanabi, which I could not enjoy on any level. Julie Bertucelli's The Tree is likewise highly acclaimed, not least as Closing Night film at the 2010 Festival de Cannes prior to its commercial release. It too, leaves me unmoved, although I can see why it appeals to some, with its ethereal touches, its internal workings and its cute children, all wrapped in the melancholy story of a husband and father taken too soon from them in an outback accident.
The titular tree is also magnificent, and its role as the conduit between 8 year old Simone (Morgana Davies) and the late father is a crucial one. It's the sort of relationship that works well in a novel, invading the reader's internal world. It's a much less successful piece on the screen - for me at least.
Bristling as it is with adult acting talent, my personal acting award goes to Christian Byers as Tim, the eldest of the children; Byers has a bright future if he wishes to pursue acting, with a natural screen presence and an instant rapport with the audience. Morgana Davies, the little girl playing the key role of Simone, is precocious and worldly wise beyond her years in an irritating way, made worse by dialogue more suitable for an adult. The combination is off putting to the extent that she becomes something of a brat - for whom we feel not so much empathy as annoyance. This seriously undermines the film's resonance and its emotional objectives.
The fact that Charlotte Gainsbourg also delivers a rather unlikeable and intangible character as the young widow Dawn, doesn't help; I don't believe her as a mother and I don't believe her as a character. Unlike the splendid tree, the film is thus left rootless, a rather flimsy affair with little meaningful to say to me.
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TREE, THE (M)
CAST: Charlotte Gainsbourg, Marton Csokas, Morgana Davies, Gabriel Gotting, Arthur Dignam, Penne Hackforth-Jones, Gillian Jones, Tom Russell, Aden Young
PRODUCER: Yael Fogiel, Sue Taylor
DIRECTOR: Julie Bertucelli
SCRIPT: Judy Pascoe (novel by Pascoe)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Nigel Bluck
EDITOR: Francois Gedigier
MUSIC: Gregoire Hetzel
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Steven Jones-Evans
RUNNING TIME: 100 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Transmission
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: September 30, 2010