The Tree - A Serene Examination of Grief

                           There have been great and lovely films as 'The Tree,' but for haunting beauty and strangeness this Australian-French co-production, directed by Julie Bertuccelli and shot in a bare stretch of countryside in Queensland, Australia, is hard to beat. A 8-year old girl's belief that her dead father's soul lives on forms the core of this film. People have been reminded of deceased loved ones by ordinary objects; some of our most powerful religious rituals use such remembrances to create connection. In 'Tree' the nature provides the gateway to communication.

                          The family-centric focus, subdued tones and disinterest in fantasy dazzle won't make this a breakthrough commercial item for many audiences,  but  fine performances anchors a well-paced narrative. "The Tree" is just as much about life, filled with both sunny and somber moments.

        Based on a novel by Judy Pascoe, the movie is set in the parched farmlands of Australia. The tree in the title refers to the marvelous, giant, many-limbed tree, a Moreton Bay fig, located next to the family home on a small Australian country town where Dawn O’Neil (Charlotte Gainsbourg) lives with her husband Paul (Aden Young) and their four children. Of their four children, Simone (Morgana Davies) is her father's favorite.

            When Peter (Aden Young), with Simone returns home from a job - he transports houses on a huge flat bed - a shudder of pain runs up his arm, and he succumbs to a heart attack, and dies in his pickup, which rolls into the garden and stops beneath the towering limbs of the tree. Simone has a strong belief that her dead father's spirit lives on in the tree. She talks to him at night. She hears his voice. And Dawn, somewhat reluctantly, goes along with the pretense. And, each member of the family responds in a different way to Peter's death.

             Dawn is emotionally desolated and hides in bed, too exhausted to do anything. Tim, the elder one, is preparing to leave for school, keeps the household running while he tries to pull his mother out of her depression. Lou, the middle boy, also begins to take special care of the tree and do ceremonies around it. The youngest boy (Gabriel Gotting) is almost three but is still not speaking.

            Sooner the house will give way or the tree will have to go. Meanwhile, leafy arms are creeping through windows and verandas; a branch crashes through the roof into Dawn's bedroom. Drains are clogged.

                 With a shoestring budget, director Bertuccelli displays exceptional skill in endowing the tree with potent human  qualities. But there is nothing of the mysterious things in Bertuccelli's film: everything can be rationally explained, which makes it at once more unsettling and more moving.
She emphatically brings an intimate understanding of grief and single motherhood. Nigel Bluck's wide-screen cinematography plays a crucial role in the beauty of the outback landscape and the majestic glory of the Morten Bay fig tree.

               But what makes "The Tree" a movie about actual people and not just a story, are the powerful performances by Gainsbourg and young Davies. Their pain and their longing for the husband and father they’ve lost — are so palpable. No one feels sorrow onscreen quite like Charlotte Gainsbourg, here playing Dawn. When not sleeping or sobbing, she spends her depleted energy wrangling her four kids, ranging from toddler to teenager, who scamper around their house.

               Even though the film gives each of the children enough screen time to register a personality, it focuses on the radiant, stubbornly bratty 8-year-old Simone, whom Morgana Davies portrays with an exceptional force and confidence. Where does seven-year-olds, like Morgana learn their acting skills? How do they manage such artlessness, such conviction, such naturalism, such depths of understanding? And kudos to The Tree's other child actors: Christian Byers and Tom Russell, as Simone's older brothers, and little Gabriel Gotting, as the silent, traumatized Charlie. Marton Csokas is also fantastic as the local plumber who becomes involved with Dawn. It’s also more interesting to see a film whose primal, scene-stealing effect isn’t a computer-generated giant robot, but instead an actual, genuine tree.

             The Tree is a heavy film and may not be to everyone’s taste but it avoids the mawkishness that tags through its original premise. It is a film about connecting to nature and loved ones, celebrating life, and looking to the future.


The Tree - IMDb 


Haricharan Pudipeddi said...

Looks promising! Will check it out and return with a comment :)

Meoww said...

Me too, you made me want to see this movie!

ArjunaUbacha said...

Nicely written. Looks like I need to get a DVD and watch it.

indu chhibber said...

promises to be a fine film

Chapters From My Life said...

I have seen many good films after reading the reviews here.. one of them recently was amazing The Million Dollar Baby which I had missed.

Arun Kumar said...

@Haricharan, Thanks for the comment.

@Meoww, For anyone who loves slow-moving dramas, this is a must watch.

@Indiawilds, Thanks for the comment, and also give ur opinion after watching the movie.

Arun Kumar said...

@indu chibber, Thank you, and do watch the film.

@Farila, Thanks for the comment.

L.Torres, RN said...

looks like a nice movie! Grief is something that all people will encounter one day.