Charlotte Gainsbourg is always a luminous presence in her movies and The Tree, a film about longing and accepting loss, makes no exception. It takes a woman- the talented, former French documentary-maker, Julie Bertuccelli- to gorgeously render the feelings of another woman. The title of the movie refers to a fig tree that acts both protectively and aggressively over the O'Neil family.
The father of the family, Peter (Aden Young), dies of a heart attack, while driving his truck and ends up resting at the feet of the tree. Left with four children, Dawn (Charlotte Gainsbourg), the mother, goes through depressing times, yet gains balance for the sake of her family. She needs to start making a living so she gets a job at the office of the local plumber, George (Marton Csokas). The romance they embark on is soothing and refreshing for Dawn, yet, the family's eight-year-old Simone, seems to have a hard time accepting the man. The little girl is convinced her father's spirit dwells in the tree so she refuses to climb down and be reunited with the rest of the family. Nature itself appears to be against the George and Dawn affair so when the typhoon hits the area in a succession of impressive visual effects display, the tree collapses over the house.
Gradually, the leaves of their Moreton Bay Fig start whispering to Dawn's heart as well and she starts seeing George, called upon to remove the disturbing roots and branches of the tree, as an unnecessary presence. Her own needs come second and the well-being of her children is a priority. When she is a mess, lying in bed, Tim, the eldest and the most responsible child, takes care of the rest of them and even gets a job. This is a gesture that pulls the mother out of her numbness and forces her to face reality: she is more than needed, she is vital. The children's interest and fascination with the tree is a shared secret and Dawn, although initially drawn by George's manly attitude towards solving matters, gives in to her motherly feelings.
This is a simple, unadorned movie that feels like a breeze on a sunny day; Charlotte Gainsbourg's lean figure and big eyes stick on your retina in a powerful manner. She has an elegant manner of dealing with pain without feeling too affected or phony. A mother's pain works in mysterious ways, yet never to the prejudice of her children. The tree is a metaphor for the presence of the invisible world. There might be an entrance to the underworld at its roots and Simone feels it. Communicating with her father's spirit, via the fig tree, is Simone's way of telling the world she is not ready to give her father up. She sees her mother's fling as a betrayal and takes refuge in the sheltering branches of the tree.
The Tree has been adapted to the screen by writer and director Julie Bertuccelli (Since Otar Left) starting from the novel Our Father Who Art in the Tree by Judy Pascoe. Apart from the great performances, the movie is incredible in rendering the beauty of the Australian landscape and nature itself in the dramatic pursue of peace of mind and acceptance of personal loss.