"On the edge between realism and the imaginary"
by Fabien Lemercier
- The French director answered questions from international journalists at a press conference at the Cannes Film Festival
Flanked by Charlotte Gainsbourg and young Morgana Davies, stars of The Tree [+see also:
interview: Julie Bertuccelli
film profile], which closed the 63rd Cannes Film Festival out of competition, French director Julie Bertuccelli answered questions from journalists. Below are some chosen extracts.
What was it about the novel that touched you and made you want to adapt it for the big screen?
Julie Bertuccelli: It was seeing in its two characters, the mother and daughter, how each one moves forward in her own way after this bereavement is forced upon them. The little girl creates her own world, develops her imagination and grows up at her own pace. By losing grip, by not really being a perfect mother, by perhaps letting her daughter do unseemly things and leaving each child with their own loneliness, the mother also takes her own time to live with this sadness.
The book was told from the little girl’s point of view, but you were keen to also include that of the mother. When did this idea come to you?
From the start, when I was reading the book. I thought it was a richer idea. Obviously, it was more difficult having two characters of almost equal importance, but it was more interesting for the comings and goings it could produce in the story. And it’s also this relationship between mother and daughter that is at stake in the film. But the important thing was also to ensure that the whole family and the tree remained very present.
When did you think of Charlotte Gainsbourg for the role of the mother?
When I wrote the first adaptation, five years ago, I didn’t think of Charlotte straightaway. I thought she was too young for the role, also bearing in mind the fact that the character was originally imagined as Australian. Then time passed, Charlotte aged a bit [laughs], she was 38, with two children, and it seemed to become more plausible.
Why did you insist on shooting in Australia?
It was very important for me because it’s also a film about nature, about how insignificant we are compared to nature. In that country, you have a feeling of immensity and of being quite powerless against very unpredictable elements: dangerous animals, storms, fires and drought. I also wanted to stay close to the characters, to their private life and, set against this grand scale, I thought the contrast could be interesting.
Is it important for films to help raise awareness about environmental issues?
I don’t consider it to be an environmental film. I wanted to portray nature as a reflection of our feelings and give it a presence to express in a different way the fact that each child in the family has a strange relationship with the tree, which is really a relationship with the father, with this mourning process. It’s a reflection of that slow progress that each one makes and, in that forced exile of mourning, nature on a grand scale really emphasises this.
The tree has an almost supernatural dimension.
We tried to always be on the edge between realism and the imaginary, to never tip over into a fantasy film, but maintain a little doubt. We don’t hear the father’s voice, but perhaps it’s the little whisperings that create this doubt. But we can tell ourselves it’s the wind or a dead branch that has fallen in the mother’s bed while she is kissing a man. It’s this ambivalence that interested me. As in life, there are signs, things that happen, which we can interpret as we like for there are people who are more or less mystical.
As a director, how did you bring this tree to life?
DoP Nigel Bluck and I tried to film it like a real character. It wasn’t about creating anthropomorphism and fantasy, but finding the right distance, because it changes personality; it goes from being a welcoming, bewitching and comforting tree to one that becomes invasive and almost frightening, giving this family a rough time. We needed to find different ways of filming it and then it was down to the editing work, which François Gédigier did beautifully. The sound was also very important to give it this life and mystery.