The Tree Reviews
"The Tree" is a slight, if not totally insignificant, movie. What it is mostly concerned with is the role of nature and how totally unpredictable it can be, especially in the Australian outback which is photographed well.(Apparently, they don't have seasons as we know them, so occasionally we get an update on how much time has passed.) All of sorts of creatures, not intending harm, have cameos. But it is the giant tree that dominates the landscape and impacts not only the O'Neils but also the neighbors that is the biggest star of the movie. And like nature, the grieving process does not run by a specific timetable.
"The Tree" is a perfect example of a movie that has all the necessary materials - an appealing set-up that promises emotional resonance and overwhelming warmth, a strong starring performance from a well-respected actor/actress, and an almost outlandish sense of care for the setting of choice. In the film's case, that setting is Australia; and the film decidedly embraces as much of the place as it can. This is a film of beautiful sights, a few genuinely stunning images, and some excellent performances all around. But it's also a film that lacks dramatic or emotional insight, and advertises itself as an art film - therefore promising abnormality - and ultimately lying by delivering normality in the worst degree. One wonders why it was made; and so well.
What we've got here is your basic grieving drama with a twist; Dawn (Charlotte Gainsbourg) must face the philosophies of life after her husband dies from a heart attack, leaving her to look after their family on the secluded farmhouse in which they have resided for years. Next to the house, there is a very large tree (a Moreton Bay Fig to be precise); and until now, it has served little a purpose aside from providing the children with an expansive and popular addition to their playground; which is essentially their backyard. However, now one of the young daughters believes that within the tree lies the soul of her dead father. In other words, she thinks that her father - through the leaves of the tree - can send her messages from his next life and have extended chats with her and anyone else willing to believe in such otherworldly existence.
Dawn is skeptical at first; but soon learns to accept that maybe - just maybe - there is a possibility for spirituality in her boring, depressing, slow-moving life. Through this new-found optimism, she embarks on a self-journey to piece her life back together and basically start anew; she falls in love with a local plumber, who also employs her, and the kids try to cope with the mixed emotions that can be either taken or received from such a thing.
That's your story; no more and no less than what I've just described. If that sounds like your idea of a solid grieving drama, then please, be my guest and give this movie a go. I didn't particularly mind it myself; it's about as melodramatic, formulaic, and uninteresting as most films of its kind that I've seen, but at the same time, not as bad as, say, half of the lot. I'll admit that it's pretty well-made on a technical scale; the filmmaking is certainly competent and there were few noticeable stylistic errors to be found (in fact, the most stylistic moments actually work pretty well). If only the story and the characters were up to par with those qualities, then damn, this would have been a hell of a drama.
This is the kind of movie where you desperately want to "feel" something, but the narrative pretensions and thematic ambitions consistently get in the way of you bringing out as much as you bring in. It's just not a movie for everyone; and as I imagine, not a movie for most people much like myself. But that's just a general assumption; and boy, I could be wrong. "The Tree" is, with all due respect, a pretty decent flick; but that's literally it. If you crave something more, then it's time to move along.
Anyways, the critics seem to like this one as a whole; I'm not the only detractor, but the reactions are slightly more positive than negative at this point. "The Tree" is pleasant and visually interesting enough to appeal to a certain crowd (the newbie art-house crowd, the drama crowd, the sappy crowd). But it failed to leave a lasting impact on me; and while I openly accept the fact that not all dramas are made equal - and therefore, not all of them really need to reach me on some complex emotional level - this one underachieves rather grossly. But hey; it's completely up to you whether you're fine with that or not. I wasn't.
However although a wonderfully made film, it falls a little flat within it‚(TM)s story and character. Charlotte Gainsbourg‚(TM)s mourning mother is portrayed really well, but it is such a simple character and Gainsbourg looks like she is strolling through the roll; the little daughter is the only completely engaging character.
Although Bertuccelli creates that magical reality for real human tragedy to be explored; it just feels surface deep and none of the story arcs ever seemed to be seen right through. Still, there are alot of good reviews on it, so what do I know‚¶
Bertucelli directs the film and gives it a distinctly European flavour eventhough it is set well and truly in the heart of the Australian rural landscape. She has created a "feeling" rather than a film -- it is slightly dreamy and disconnected and much of it is episodic , as though you are dipping into the story at crucial moments, rather than following a story.
The Tree follows the grief of a family after the sudden and untimely death of their father and husband Peter (Aden Young.) In the opening sequences, it is clear that the father has a special bond with his only daughter Simore (Morgana Davies.) His wife Dawn's (Gainbourg's) grief over his death is overwhelming, to the point she doesn't get out of bed, and children do their best to organise themselves. The focus of the film is on the daughter Simone, almost to the exclusion of the other children. The older ones seem to have walk-on parts, and feature intermittently, so it is hard to get a feel for the familial relationship or their feelings about their father.
The main premise of the film is that Simone believes her father has taken up residence in the Moreton Bay Fig tree beside the house, and that he speaks to her on the whispers of the wind. She almost convinces her mother of the same thing.
The only daughter is 8-year-old Simone. She was very emotionally attached to her dad, even believing she was his favorite. Simone is convinced her dad is "in" the huge mango tree next to their house and that he speaks to her through it. This fantasy allows her to maintain a happy outlook while coming to terms with the loss of her father. When its roots begin to do serious damage to the house, the tree clearly must be taken down. Her father's death was unimaginable, so she's clinging to this tree that represents unwavering stability, literally and figuratively. Adding to her stress, her mum has found a possible romantic interest, which chips away at Simone's shaky security even further.
What I liked about the story was the closeness of the family and how ably they dealt with great misfortune. Nobody ever said or did anything or made a selfish choice that hurt the family irreparably. The tree didn't have special effects or violence or much sex. It was just a sweet little insignificant movie with good writing and good acting. Since there are so many better movies, I can't say that I'd recommend you watch it. But based on its merits, I'll give it a 7.
Worth watching for the performance by Morgana Davies as Simone.
(I love the the title of the book, "Our Father Who Art in the Tree".)