A girl’s belief that her dead father’s soul lives on forms the understated supernatural core of writer-director Julie Bertuccelli’s “The Tree.” The subdued tone, family-centric focus and disinterest in fantasy dazzle won’t make this a breakthrough commercial item for the talented maker of “Since Otar Left,” but a fine, unshowy performance by Charlotte Gainsbourg anchors a well-paced narrative that fests and distribs will find attractive. For good measure, the film is several grades above the norm for a Cannes closing-night selection.
The Tree(France-Australia)A Le Pacte (in France) release of a Les Films du Poisson/Taylor Media presentation in co-production with Arte France Cinema/ARD-Degeto/WDR-Arte/Tatfilm. (International sales: Memento Films Intl., Paris.) Produced by Yael Fogiel, Laetitia Gonzalez.Directed, written by Julie Bertuccelli, based on a screenplay by Elizabeth J. Mars, based on the novel “Our Father Who Art in the Tree” by Judy Pascoe. Camera (color, Panavision widescreen), Nigel Bluck; editor, Francois Gedigier; music, Gregoire Hetzel; production designer, Steven Jones-Evans; costume designer, Joanna Mae Park; sound (Dolby Digital), Olivier Mauvezin; sound designer, Olivier Mauvezin; supervising sound editor, Nicolas Moreau; re-recording mixer, Olivier Goinard; special effects, FX Illusions; stunt coordinator, Glenn Ruehland; associate producer, Flaminio Zadra; assistant director, Chris Webb; second unit camera, Jac Fitzgerald; casting, Nikki Barrett. Reviewed at Cannes Film Festival (closer), May 21, 2010. Running time: 101 MIN.With: Charlotte Gainsbourg, Morgana Davies, Marton Csokas, Aden Young, Gillian Jones, Penne Hackforth-Jones, Christian Bayers, Tom Russell, Gabriel Gotting, Zoe Boe.(English dialogue)By ROBERT KOEHLERA girl’s belief that her dead father’s soul lives on forms the understated supernatural core of writer-director Julie Bertuccelli’s “The Tree.” The subdued tone, family-centric focus and disinterest in fantasy dazzle won’t make this a breakthrough commercial item for the talented maker of “Since Otar Left,” but a fine, unshowy performance by Charlotte Gainsbourg anchors a well-paced narrative that fests and distribs will find attractive. For good measure, the film is several grades above the norm for a Cannes closing-night selection.If the film has a key problem, it’s in the opening passages establishing the pleasant family life of mother Dawn (Gainsbourg) and husband Peter (Aden Young), who works as a transporter of houses in the Outback, earning a sufficient income to allow Dawn to stay at home with kids Tim (Christian Bayers), Lou (Tom Russell), Simone (Morgana Davies) and Charlie (Gabriel Gotting). Peter suffers a fatal heart attack within a few minutes of the opening credits — enough time to show that he and Simone have a close relationship, but not quite enough to make his sudden absence the emotionally wrenching event it should be.Gainsbourg’s Dawn is a wreck, however, and it’s the actor’s total involvement in this woman’s tragedy that makes the central drama work as well as it does. In this way, Gainsbourg is allowed to be something much closer to a human being suffering a devastating loss than she was in last year’s Cannes entry, “Antichrist.” The kids pull her out of her rut as best they can, though eldest Tim determines to go off to work and school. Dawn even manages to get a job as a clerk in the plumbing store owned by George (Marton Csokas), who instantly feels a spark for this youthful-looking mom despite her obvious baggage.Foremost among that load is 8-year-old Simone. Unusually attuned to nature and knowing she was her daddy’s favorite, Simone takes to climbing — and even living — in the sprawling, towering fig tree dominating the front yard. Dawn at first tolerates Simone’s certainty that her dad lives in the tree, and even sleeps under it occasionally herself, to the consternation of her nosy neighbors.”The Tree” is something of a double adaptation, with Bertuccelli adapting Elizabeth J. Mars’ earlier script, which was adapted from Judy Pascoe’s novel, “Our Father Who Art in the Tree.” The film’s fairly blunt expository dialogue might have been usefully trimmed, but the elemental conflict — between a little girl’s willfulness, born out of love that won’t let go of the dead, and her family’s urge to get on with the living — is expressively filmed. Bertuccelli doesn’t allow the notion of the tree not wanting to let go of the house to drift into fantasy or nightmare. Although Dawn and George deliver the kind of heat that could make for a sweaty love affair and future marriage, the story denies them any kind of conventionally satisfying development. The sometimes adult-like performances by the younger actors suggest Bertuccelli gave them considerable free rein and encouragement.As much as “Otar” looked and sounded like a classically European art film, “The Tree” is a top-flight technical achievement for Aussie filmmaking, capped by one strong, effects-laden scene in particular. Nigel Bluck’s widescreen cinematography plays a crucial role in making the Morten Bay fig seem alive without effects getting in the way, while Gregoire Hetzel’s Arvo Part-influenced score tends to telegraph emotions. Sound work by the team of Olivier Mauvezin, Nicolas Moreau and Olivier Goinard is aces.
Charlotte Gainsbourg stars in the family-centric drama “The Tree.”