An extremely accomplished second outing by Catalonian helmer Marc Recha, “The Cherry Tree” puts to shame the usual Oscar-nominated foreign pics about the connection between a cute kid and adults. Recha’s exceptional, languorous use of a strong landscape, full of stone pits and olive-tree-lined terraces, recalls Japanese masters as much as it does Kiarostami. Pic won the International Critics Prize at Locarno, but it will take additional fest exposure to push this revelation into the arthouse niche Stateside, where it could generate decent returns with critical support.
Recha sets his tale in a remote village, where 13 mostly lonely characters eke out their emotional and material lives and are forced to cross paths with one another, whether on mountain roads or in the rowdy local pub. Story’s cute kid is Angel (Blai Pascual), whose voiceover occasionally comments on the action from a child’s p.o.v., in which magic and religion play large parts, and whose drawing of a cherry tree frames the intertwined stories.
Angel lives with his sister, Dolors (Diana Palazon), and his old grandma in a small cottage, while their mother works in a faraway circus. Absent mom and present grandmother strongly affect the kids; for Angel, Grandma’s death will take her to the lambs and cherry trees in a heaven he attempts to draw.
Dolors moves from guy to guy in this limited gene pool until she and the optimistic new town doctor get together. Departing doc is a more world-weary type: He has lung cancer but doesn’t want to tell his longtime girlfriend, the owner of the local boardinghouse. Other characters include a man whose olive oil is stolen, a local crime boss responsible for the theft and two peripatetic young robbers in his employ. One of latter has a fling with Dolors, brilliantly captured in a shocking, rapid montage of the courtship process.
The 28-year-old Recha studied with minimalist director Marcel Hanoun in Paris , and the influence is clear onscreen. But the Catalonian’s ability to create scenes of breathless poignancy, and juxtapose cynicism with hope, is his own. Pic’s placidity is almost harrowing. When one character comments, “Never trust the calm; it’s the daughter of the tempest,” he could be speaking for the helmer.
Visuals, editing, and sound recording are perfect, as is spartan use of music. Pic is shown with Spanish subtitles even in Hispanic territories, as Catalan dialect sounds almost like a different language.