Yet another search for Jewish roots, this time in Italy, "The Tree of Life" yields illustrious ancestors going back to major moneylenders under the Medecis, a Venetian mystic, a renowned mathematician-scientist, the first Jewish prime minister of Italy and "the Little Flower" himself, Fiorello LaGuardia.

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.

The Tree of Life

Production

An Interim CEO Film production. Produced by Hava Volterra. Executive producer, Adrew Viterbi. Directed by Hava Volterra. Written by Volterra, David N. Donihue.

Crew

Camera (color, DV), Eyal Gordin, Oded Plotnitzi, Ram Hani, Giovanni Andreotta; editor, Eli Green; music, Carlo Silotto, Nico Mansy, Enrico Fink. Reviewed on DVD, Venice, Sept. 2, 2008. English, Italian, Hebrew dialogue. Running time: 76 MIN.

With

Hava Volterra, Viviana Voterra Gerner, Alessandra Veronese, Elia Richette, Mordecai Finley.
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