Screened as part of NZIFF 2010
Selected to close this year’s Cannes Film Festival, French director Julie Bertuccelli’s second feature is an arresting drama of loss and rebirth shaped by emotion, intuition and the elemental forces at work in its ravishing Queensland landscape. Like her first, the lovely Since Otar Left (NZIFF03), The Tree is attuned to the delicate, strangely inspired unwordliness of characters discombobulated by loss.
On their small country block, eight-year-old Simone and her mother Dawn (Charlotte Gainsbourg) are dealing in very different ways with the sudden loss of their father and husband. While Dawn struggles spasmodically to keep it together, and her other children fare for themselves, Simone becomes convinced of her father’s presence in the magnificent primeval Moreton Bay fig tree that towers over the family’s rambling bungalow. In Simone’s eyes, Martin Csokas as Dawn’s amorous boss has aroused the tree’s anger. Why else would its roots be rupturing the drains and pushing into the house’s foundations?
Morgana Davies as Dawn is a vividly ethereal screen presence, while the other children have a charming looseness and assurance about them. Charlotte Gainsbourg’s performance as a grieving young widow has a veracity that erases all memories of her very different performance a year ago for Lars Von Trier.
Bertuccelli’s outsider eye for the flora, fauna and extreme weather of her setting energises a startled vision of abundant, turbulent nature – to the bemusement of more prosaic Australian commentators. She is abetted to sublime effect by Kiwi cinematographer Nigel Bluck who has captured some of the most lyrical images of rural Australia ever seen on screen. — BG