Reviewer: James van Maanen
Rating (out of five): *** 1/2
That anyone could steal the thunder out from under an actress as always-fine as Charlotte Gainsbourg is surprising enough; that it would be a small girl named Morgana Davies with but a single credit behind her (for a film unreleased anywhere but in Australia -- and given but a single star on its IMDB site!) is a further oddity.
Yet Davies, in only her second role, excels. The movie is called The Tree, and it is very much worth viewing. The film's director, Julie Bertuccelli (of the much-heralded Since Otar Left), either cast her film strikingly well (every actor is on-point here, including the expansive arboreal giant in the title role) or else she has been able to bring out a remarkable emotional range coupled to an acute intelligence from Gainsbourg’s young co-star. Probably both.
Death comes quietly, sadly and early-on in The Tree, and while no one in the film quite recovers from this, the event grounds the tale and moves its forward. How mom (Gainsbourb), her four kids, and the fellow who joins the family unit adapt to their new life and to the sudden surge of importance of that tree -- each in his/her own way -- becomes the meat of the movie.
Nature plays an enormous part in this film, and it is rare to see a movie so attuned to the intricacies of character and relationship also handle this theme so well. From the scene with the bat flying around the house to the frogs in the toilet, the tree itself (with its giant, moisture-seeking roots), the gorgeous landscapes and finally the storm that provides the climax, theme and events in this film complement each other almost perfectly.
I noted that one major reviewer found that storm less than believable. Low budget or not, Bertuccelli and her crew captured the frightening force of nature believably enough for this viewer. A word should be said, too, for the fine performance from Marton Csokas as the man who comes into mom's life, offering employment and more. The filmmaker, who co-adapted (with Elizabeth J. Mars) the screenplay from a novel by Judy Pascoe, does a smart job of providing reality to the relationship, the impact of which on this tightly-knit family may not be as strong as less believable (but more romantic) movies might have it. This is one more reason why independent and foreign films exert such an attraction for some of us. They resist the standard stuff.
The Tree, out of DVD this week, comes complete In the Shadow of The Tree: a behind-the-scenes documentary, nine deleted scenes, the U.S. theatrical trailer, and English subtitles for the deaf and hearing impaired (SDH).
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