By Ray Bennett
French-born filmmaker Julie Bertucelli’s “The Tree” takes tree hugging to extremes. It will appeal to those who like to believe that upon death human beings take other forms, in this case a towering woody perennial, and bore those who do not.
Screened on Closing Night at the 2010 Festival de Cannes, the French and Australian production is based on Julie Pascoe’s popular Australian novel “Our Father Who Art In the Tree”. It opens in the UK on Aug. 5 from Artificial Eye.
Those who cringe at the title should stay away from the film but given the many who enjoy touchy-feely themes, box office potential is high.
Certainly, it’s well worth seeing the performance of young Morgana Davies as Simone, a child who becomes convinced that her late father speaks and listens to her through the comforting branches of the tree next to her house.
Davies gives the kid a great deal of spunk and character. Gifted with poise and considerable acting range, the young performer makes Simone attractive, sympathetic and vulnerable while remaining fiercely independent and prickly.
Her siblings also benefit from strong performances and writer-director Bertucelli deserves great credit for making them appear so natural and credible.
Charlotte Gainsbourg plays Dawn, their mother, who also comes to believe she can visit with her late husband Peter amongst the leaves of a tree that is handsome but causes a great deal of disruption with its roots spreading out for water.
The family’s home is in danger and also that of a fussy neighbor who petitions for the tree to be torn down. A year after Peter’s death, Dawn gets a job and falls for her handy-man boss George (Marton Csokas). Things come to a head when George is enlisted to chop down the tree and the land is threatened by a ferocious cyclone.
Nigel Bluck’s cinematography has sweep and style, and Bertucelli wisely focuses on Simone as the center of the film. That’s a good thing as Gainsbourg makes the woman appear more drippy than necessary. It’s Davies who comes closest to melting the hearts of those immune to the cloying tale.
UK distributor: Artificial Eye; Sales: Memento Films International; Production companies: Les Films du Poisson, Taylor Media; Cast: Charlotte Gainsbourg, Marton Csokas, Morgana Davies, Aden Young; Director and screenwriter: Julie Bertucelli; Director of photography: Nigel Bluck; Production designer: Steven Jones-Evans; Music: Gregoire Hetzel; Costume designer: Joanna Mae Park; Editor: Francois Gedigier; UK rating 12A, 100 minutes
This review appeared in The Hollywood Reporter.