The Tree: A subtle depiction of the consequences of a tragedy
by Vladan Petkovic
- Sonja Prosenc’s brave debut film will reward attentive audiences
Slovenian director Sonja Prosenc's first feature film, The Tree [+see also:
film profile], world-premiered in Karlovy Vary's East of the West section. With its claustrophobic setting and fragmented narration that reveals much less than it hides, it is a bold work for a debutant, both for better and for worse.
Split into three chapters, each dedicated to one of the protagonists, The Tree tells the story of a family consisting of mother Milena (Katarina Stegnar), adolescent son Alek (Jernej Kogovsek) and nine year-old boy Veli (Lukas Matija Rosas Ursic). The first chapter, entitled “Veli”, introduces us to the obviously fatherless family, which is for some unknown (at that point) reason hiding inside their own house. The minimalistic production design – a bare concrete yard surrounded by a high wall, simple furniture and drab walls – sets up the claustrophobic atmosphere.
The second chapter, “Milena”, finally takes us out of the house and provides us with more specific details about the story. The trio is now out in a small town, where they meet up with teenage girl Liri (Sasa Pavlin Stosic), and as opposed to the previous chapter, in which the family speaks Slovenian among themselves, they now speak Albanian.
Later, Alek goes out with another teenage boy, Dritan (Suad Fazli), clearly his closest friend and Liri’s brother. They climb up into a tree and sit there discussing Alek’s and Liri’s relationship in light of the fact that the family is planning to move out of town. An unfortunate sequence of events ends with a tragedy that finally explains these events, or rather, the reason for the oppressive atmosphere in the first chapter.
In the final part, dedicated to Alek’s view of the situation, the denouement unfolds slowly but powerfully. Indeed, this is a film of great emotional impact that describes a psychological state and an unbearable situation, rather than telling a story.
The cinematography by Mitja Licen (known for the criminally underrated 2008 title We've Never Been to Venice [+see also:
film profile] by Blaz Kutin, on which Prosenc also worked as AD) makes excellent use of the blue-white-grey palette, with blue playing an important symbolic role. Debutant Janez Dovc's music is original, impressionistic and always propels the story forward, as opposed to providing a rhythmic background.
The Tree is a unique work that asks the viewer to focus, and although it might be too subtle for its own good, audiences who put an effort into the experience will be more than adequately rewarded.