The power of nature
by Fabien Lemercier
- An enchanting, subtle and sensitive film shot in Australia by French director Julie Bertuccelli and starring Charlotte Gainsbourg. It won acclaim as the closing film at Cannes 2010
Allure, subtlety and sensitivity combine in this film that closed the 63rd Cannes Film Festival, out of competition: Julie Bertuccelli’s English-language French/Australian co-production The Tree [+see also:
interview: Julie Bertuccelli
Centred on the mourning process of a woman (played by an outstanding Charlotte Gainsbourg) and her young children during the year following the sudden death of the head of the family, this understatedly moving film subtly makes a connection between rebuilding oneself as a person and the power of nature embodied by a huge fig tree in the wild landscape of Australia.
For 15 years, Dawn (Gainsbourg) has lived with her husband Peter and their four children (aged roughly between four and 17) in a large house nestled in the middle of magnificent scenery stretching as far as the eye can see. But Peter dies of a heart attack before his family’s eyes, at the steering wheel of the family car and just beneath the fig tree next to the house.
There follows a very painful mourning process for Dawn, who is psychologically drained and leaves the running of the home to her children. For her part, eight-year-old Simone absorbs the shock of her father’s death by convincing herself that the whispering she hears in the fig tree is a sign that the deceased is reincarnated in the tree. She confesses this belief to her mother ("It’s our secret"), who gradually lets herself be drawn to the fig tree too.
They both start talking to the tree, thus easing their sadness. "We have a choice between being happy or sad and I’ve chosen to be happy”, explains Simone (Morgana Davies) to her best friend, while Dawn gradually starts to live again, finds a job as a personal assistant and goes out with her boss George.
However, the tree becomes more and more invasive, both physically (its roots endanger the foundations of the house and the cistern) and psychologically (Simone refuses to climb down from it, just as she rejects the idea of a new man in her mother’s life). But the power of human beings to be reborn again ("we’re all sad, we have to learn to live with that") and Nature’s ability to start afresh will help the little family to finally turn the page on their past.
With this second feature adapted from Judy Pascoe’s novel Our Father Who Art in the Tree, Bertuccelli reinforces the impression she made with her highly acclaimed debut here on the Croisette in 2003 where she won the Critics’ Week Grand Prize for Since Otar Left. Very accurate in all the small details of the everyday aspects of childhood and family life, The Tree paints a beautiful portrait of a woman in which Gainsbourg’s talent finds full expression and is a film infused with the majestic and regenerative beauty of Nature.
(Translated from French)