Yet another search for Jewish roots, this time in Italy, Hava Volterra’s “The Tree of Life” yields illustrious ancestors going back to major moneylenders under the Medecis, a Venetian mystic/Kabbalah interpreter, a renowned mathematician-scientist, the first Jewish prime minister of Italy and “the Little Flower” himself, Fiorello LaGuardia. It’s clear why Volterra would have felt driven to make such a film. It’s less clear why anyone not related to her would pay to see it. Docu opens Sept. 12 at Gotham’s Two Boots Pioneer.
Virtually every aspect of this exercise seems wearisomely familiar. Volterra orchestrates still drawings, collage animation and CGI-goosed puppets to juice up her grandiosely titled family tree, but all the hip embellishments generate little genuine visual interest. Her corralling of her 82-year-old aunt to delve into her clan’s recent past (and to tender much-belated thanks to those who hid them during the war) has been done with more ironic panache. New York-based Volterra then travels to her native Israel to try to understand her brilliant physicist father, whose death kicked off her documentarian journey, but such personal notes, too, have sounded with far greater resonance elsewhere.