Adapted from the novel by Australian author Judy Pascoe, The Tree tells of a family recovering from the sudden loss of their husband and father. French director Julie Bertuccelli, who shot the film Down Under, uses the forces of nature and the giant fig tree the family has on their property almost as characters. This family drama should appeal to fans of the book and to followers of the redoubtable Charlotte Gainsbourg, who here stars as the young mother trying to hold her life and family together. With attractions like these and such a strong storyline, box office potential for The Tree is sure to blossom.
Initially Dawn (Gainsbourg) falls to pieces after Peter (Aden Young) dies of a heart attack and crashes their car. His unexpected death leaves her with four children and a rambling house in the suburbs to somehow maintain alone. The children range in age from the teenage Tim (Christian Byers) to kids Lou (Tom Russell), Simone (Morgana Davies) and the youngest Charlie (Gabriel Gotting).
Of the brood, Simone manages to cope best, finding the spirit of her dead father in the giant fig tree that grows next the house. The little girl is a born survivor and confides in her mother that the tree seems to speak to her. She talks back and decorates its branches; an elegant and wistful manifestation of what we might call a coping mechanism.
Dawn (who's name invokes a transition from darkness to light) gains strength from the shared knowledge offered by her poetically sage children. She slowly pulls herself together, faults and all. Eventually Dawn finds a job with a local plumbing firm and begins a relationship with one of the employees, George (Marton Csokas). As if in disapproval, the tree's roots begin to impinge on the house. (And once they hit the pipes, the cost will be significant.)
Bertucelli, who previously made Since Otar Left, extracts heart-felt performances from her cast, especially Gainsbourg, a Parisian fixture that's not an obvious choice to set loose in the Queensland bush. She has, of course, worked in English, notably in Lars Von Trier's Antichrist for which she won a Cannes Film Festival best actress award. Here, with a neutral accent, she portrays a mother who's far from perfect, but who finds renewal through her children.
Stunningly shot by cinematographer Nigel Bluck (Handsome Harry) the film captures beautifully the magic of the foliage and the surrounding landscapes-confirming that, for this family in transition, the power to endure can be found outside.
Distributor: Zeitgeist Films
Cast: Charlotte Gainsbourg, Marton Csokas, Morgana Davies, Aden Young, Christian Byers, Tom Russell, Gabriel Gotting
Director/Screenwriter: Julie Bertucelli
Producers: Sue Taylor, Yael Fogiel
Running time: 100 min.
Release date: July 15 NY