Gustavo Fontan’s exquisite alternative pic “The Tree” builds a resonant experience from the filmmaker’s father trying to figure out what to do with a dying tree in his Buenos Aires yard. Filmed on superbly realized high-def video over a few seasons in Fontan’s boyhood home, where parents Julio and Maria still live, the pic is a triumph of personal filmmaking, drawing universal feelings out of specific details. This is a gorgeous fest item and counterprogrammer to just about anything, and should find a passionate international following on vid.
Maria is certain the tree, planted the day Fontan was born is dead; Julio isn’t sure, determined to find some way to keep it alive. Fontan isn’t interested in the psychological background of this gentle, low-key disagreement, and avoids making judgments about the merits of either perspective.
Rather, Fontan’s eyes (with gifted lenser Diego Poleri) are trained on the tiny details of everyday existence: The outside leaves swept up by Maria’s broom, Julio’s various eyeglasses, the army of ants crawling in and out of the dead tree, and most impressively, the shifts in weather from startlingly sunny to the growling rainstorms that appear to have the final word in the tree’s fate. The faces of young and old in Fontan’s extended family become part of a fascinating mosaic, and a lovely tribute to the role families hold in Argentine life.
The film’s aural scape (sound man Javier Farina making a crucial contribution) is a stunning montage of natural sound that adds to the pic’s poetic feel. Vid lensing recalls the heights of Sven Nykvist’s work with Ingmar Bergman, and will convince skeptics that HD cinematography is a real tool for artists.