The Tree (Zeitgeist Films, NR)

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Soon after, Dawn and the plumber are making out, which is what invokes the ire of the tree in the first place. Yes, this is all as stupid as it sounds.

 

 

 

In a scenario better suited to a schlocky horror movie than a heavy-handed art house movie, the new Julie Bertuccelli film The Tree concerns a family—matriarch Dawn (Charlotte Gainsbourg) and her four children—who are overcome with loss when patriarch Peter (Aden Young) dies suddenly, but soon precocious daughter Simone (Morgana Davies) begins to believe that the spirit of her father has migrated to the enormous fig tree in the family’s back yard, which looms ominously over the house. This theory of Simone’s is backed up by the fact that the tree likes to damage the house when Dawn takes up with a new man—it drops branches on top of the house and in the process crushes a room, it uses its roots to gum up the plumbing and piss off the neighbors, etc. In the context the film puts these actions, they come off not silly (which could be fun), not touching (which is what the Bertuccelli is going for, I think), but really just dumb and frustrating.

Speaking of dumb and frustrating, almost every other aspect of the film is. The acting is wooden, which is strange from Gainsbourg, who is usually very good and likeable. The writing, aforementioned plot points aside, is lazy and stupid—you’ll never see a character act in a logical way in this film, and character motivation is completely lacking. See: Dawn walks into a plumber’s storefront needing a plumber. Immediately upon entering the shop the plumber, George (Marton Csokas), offers Dawn a job, despite the fact that a) he doesn’t know her name, b) he does know that she has never had a job before in her life (she tells him so), and c) she didn’t so much as ask about it. Soon after, Dawn and the plumber are making out, which is what invokes the ire of the tree in the first place. Yes, this is all as stupid as it sounds.

It’s a shame, too, because aside from usually liking Gainsbourg I also liked Bertuccelli’s only other feature film, 2003’s unfairly overlooked Since Otar Left. As it stands, the only redeeming quality in this film at all is that sometimes Nigel Bluck’s landscape photography is pretty (he’s not so good with interiors; just the Australian countryside, where the film is set), and the tree itself is actually quite gorgeous (there’s a funny bit in the credits involving the people who helped “cast” the tree). Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go rewatch The Evil Dead, and think about what might have been. | Pete Timmermann

 

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