The Tree (R13)

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The ViewAuckland Review

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Review byMatthew Turner5/08/2011

Three out of Five stars
Running time: 110 mins

This is an emotionally engaging drama with strong performances, particularly from the child actors, but it's also a good twenty minutes too long and doesn't quite get the tone right, which leads to the occasional unintentionally hilarious moment.

What's it all about?
Directed by Julie Bertucelli and set in rural Queensland, Australia, The Tree is based on the novel Our Father Who Art in the Tree by Judy Pascoe and stars Charlotte Gainsbourg as Dawn, whose loving husband Peter (Aden Young) dies of a sudden heart attack, leaving her to look after their four children.

As the months pass, Dawn becomes attracted to kindly local plumber George (Marton Csokas), but their burgeoning relationship is complicated by the fact that Dawn's eight-year-old daughter Simone (Morgana Davies) has become convinced that her father's spirit is inside the enormous fig tree that overshadows their house. And then the tree starts behaving weirdly and Dawn starts to wonder if her daughter might actually be right.

The Good
Charlotte Gainsbourg is excellent as Dawn and her non-Australian-ness gives her an extra layer of vulnerability that's extremely powerful – the script doesn't spell it out exactly, but you strongly feel that she lived for Peter and doesn't quite know how to relate to her children without him around. Morgana Davies is equally good as Simone, delivering an impressive child performance that's believable, charming and heart-breaking, while there's also strong support from Csokas and from Christian Byers as Dawn's teenage son Tim, who's preparing to leave home.

The film is beautifully shot and contains several striking nature-based images, whether it's a toilet bowl full of frogs, a giant bat flapping around one of the rooms or a scarily enormous jellyfish. It's also nicely weird in places, such as the moment when, after the tree has crashed through a bedroom window, Dawn decides to, um, sleep with it.

The Bad
The main problem is that Bertuccelli can't quite find the right tone, which renders moments like the tree-sleeping scene unintentionally hilarious; it's also frustratingly inconsistent – this should be a turning point for Dawn, yet it's quickly forgotten. On top of that, the symbolism eventually becomes overpowering (notably when Tim urinates on the tree) and there are some serious pacing problems, with long dull stretches in the middle section.

Worth seeing?
The Tree is worth seeing for its strong performances, its striking imagery and its general peculiarities but it's not quite as emotionally satisfying as it should have been, thanks to some pacing problems and a frustratingly uneven tone.

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Content updated: 17/10/2019 09:44

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