The Tree Review
Queensland, Australia. Dawn (Charlotte Gainsbourg) and Peter O'Neill (Aden Young) live in the countryside with their four children. Then Peter dies in an accident. This has a strong effect on all the family, not least eight-year-old Simone (Morgana Davies). She believes that her father has not gone away, but instead his spirit lives on in the huge tree that overlooks their house.
Based on Judy Pascoe's novel Our Father Who Art in the Tree (which I haven't read), The Tree is the second feature from French director Julie Bertuccelli. She began her career as an assistant director for Otar Iosseliani, Krzysztof Kieslowski and Bertrand Tavernier and her first feature was Since Otar Left (which I haven't seen). That film was set in Georgia so it seems rather a large leap to Australia for her next film, explained by the setting of the novel and its film rights being held there.
The Tree doesn't entirely work, but at best it's a very effective mood piece, treated with delicacy and sensitivity by Bertuccelli. In particular she elicits an outstanding performance from young Morgana Davies in the key role. Charlotte Gainsbourg on the other hand seems awkward in the other key role and her parts of the plot (she enters into an affair with neighbour George, played by Marton Csokas) don't work as well as they should as a result. Some events in the film tend to give credence to Simone's beliefs, tilting the story towards magic realism and in the final stages almost into horror-movie territory. Nigel Bluck's Scope photography aids the sense of place, which is the film's strongest asset, considerably.
There's a slight feyness to The Tree which will certainly be offputting to some viewers. It's a film that you do need to suspend some disbelief for. But it does cast a spell if you let it.
The Tree picked up several nominations in the 2010 Australian Film Institute Awards (which as of 2011 are called the AACTA Awards) – for Best Film, Adapted Screenplay, Direction, Lead Actress for both Charlotte Gainsbourg and Morgana Davies, and for the AFI Young Actor Award for Davies. However, it did not win in any of these categories.
Artificial Eye's release of The Tree is a dual-layered DVD encoded for all regions.
The DVD transfer is in the ratio of 2.40:1 and is anamorphically enhanced. There's nothing much wrong with it: it's sharp and colourful and the night scenes have good shadow detail.
The soundtrack is less satisfactory. The Tree played with Dolby Digital and DTS soundtracks in the cinema, but unaccountably this DVD has a 2.0 Dolby Surround track. There's nothing wrong with the clarity of the dialogue (though hard-of-hearing subtitles would have been nice) but you can sense how much 5.1 sound would have added to the film's climax.
The main extra is a making-of documentary (30:22) which begins with the revelation that Bertuccelli had wanted to make a film of Italo Calvino's The Baron in the Trees only to find that Calvino's will barred any film version. So on to another tree book and a Franco-Australian co-production ensued. We then go through the location shooting and the casting of Morgana Davies and the other children. (Playing Simone's brother Lou is Tom Russell, who made Last Ride before this and Matching Jack afterwards.) This is a French-made piece (Bertuccelli is captioned as the “réalisatrice”) and the dialogue is a mix of French and English, with the former provided with fixed electronic subtitles. The only other extra is the theatrical trailer (1:48).
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