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The Tree

Director: Julie Bertuccelli

Cast: Charlotte Gainsbourg, Marton Csokas, Morgana Davies


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A family struggling with the loss of a loved one may have found him in a rather unusual place in this drama from writer and director Julie Bertuccelli. Dawn (Charlotte Gainsbourg) is a stay-at-home mother to her four children -- Tim (Christian Byers), Lou (Tom Russell),


A family struggling with the loss of a loved one may have found him in a rather unusual place in this drama from writer and director Julie Bertuccelli. Dawn (Charlotte Gainsbourg) is a stay-at-home mother to her four children -- Tim (Christian Byers), Lou (Tom Russell), Simone (Morgana Davies), and Charlie (Gabriel Gotting) -- and a loving wife to her husband, Peter (Aden Young). Peter is out of town on business when he suffers a fatal heart attack; Dawn is emotionally shattered by the news, and isn't sure at first how to get by on her own. The children are supportive to their mom, Tim gets a part-time job to help bring in some extra cash, and Dawn begins working at a plumbing supply store run by kind-hearted George (Marton Csokas), but while they're all trying to move on, they still wish they could have Peter back in their lives. Simone, who is eight, has taken to climbing the big tree in front of the family's house, and she soon explains why to Dawn -- she says she can hear the voice of her father rustling through the leaves. Before long, Simone builds a tree house and spends most of her time listening to her father's phantom voice, and while Dawn understands how she feels, she's not sure how to get her daughter to let go of her father's ghost, especially when Simone reacts poorly to the news that Dawn and George are dating. The Tree was adapted from the novel Our Father Who Art in the Tree by Judy Pascoe.

Editorial Reviews

All Movie Guide - Nathan Southern
Writer-director Julie Bertuccelli's drama The Tree, an adaptation of Judy Pascoe's novel Our Father Who Art in a Tree, opens with the sudden death of Peter O'Neil (Aden Young), a beloved husband and dad who lives with his wife, Dawn (Charlotte Gainsbourg), and their young children in the Australian countryside. Peter collapses from undisclosed causes behind the wheel of his pickup, which then slowly careens into the base of a Poinciana tree situated next to the family home. In the days to come, grief wracks the family, but eight-year-old daughter Simone (Morgana Davies) finds unexpected solace in the Poinciana's enormous, twisting branches, and claims that she can hear her dad whispering to her from inside of the plant. Though Dawn is initially skeptical, she soon acquiesces and also begins spending time amid the limbs, engaging in deep, thoughtful conversations with the tree. Taken at face value, the story demands a major suspension of disbelief, but Bertuccelli avoids the pitfall of implausibility by presenting the events metaphorically -- with a scenario where the tree symbolizes Peter's posthumous presence in the family. The material recalls Robert Anderson's observation from I Never Sang for My Father: "Death ends a life, but it does not end a relationship -- which struggles on in the survivor's mind, toward some resolution, which it may never find." Mirroring this idea, much of the drama in the story revolves around the attempts of the two female survivors to contend, emotionally and psychologically, with Peter's passing -- lured by the intoxicating draw of clinging to the past in the form of hearing Peter's whispers. And when Dawn attempts to build a new life by dating local plumber George Elrick (Marton Csokas), the tree becomes more "aggressive" -- crashing into the master bedroom during a lightning storm, and weaving its roots under the house. In other words, escape from the past isn't always easy -- at times, it seems impossible. This is all profound stuff, and it benefits a great deal from Bertuccelli's acute observations of her characters. The way the writer-director handles Simone is particularly impressive; from the beginning, the film captures the breadth of the child's imagination, and Simone's ability to live in a dream world almost leads her straight into physical harm -- placing the film in the sphere of such classics as The Spirit of the Beehive, Crows, and I'm Not Scared. Bertuccelli also maps out the contradictory familial emotions that follow a death with something close to perfection. Unfortunately, though, the picture falters in its last 20 minutes, and its lapse has to do with Dawn's growth. It makes logical sense for Simone to obstreperously hang on to memories of Peter for a longer period of time than her mother, who has more wisdom and emotional strength to draw on by virtue of her age. And it feels credible when Dawn begins to move beyond an attachment to her first husband and into an affair with George -- culling indignation and fury from Simone. What doesn't make sense is for the mother to then kowtow to her eight-year-old by distancing herself from George in an attempt to preserve "the tree." Dawn has already demonstrated how much she grasps the value of moving on and rebuilding her life -- ideas articulated in a gentle lecture to Simone. Having the mother leap backward isn't simply illogical, it's absurd. This misstep, however, has to be weighed carefully against everything that the film does get right. The material must have seemed fraught with risks from its inception, given its conceit of the father in the tree. In the wrong hands, this concept could easily grow too cute or too precious, or perhaps veer into mystical nonsense. But this never happens; Bertuccelli saves herself and her characters with her quiet and controlled allegorical presentation. And even though the film falls short of its potential with an unsatisfactory resolution, the intelligence of the filmmaker's overall approach does merit a recommendation.

Product Details

Release Date:
Original Release:
Zeitgeist Films
[Wide Screen]
Sales rank:

Special Features

"In the Shadow of The Tree": a behind-the-scenes documentary; ; Nine deleted scenes; U.S.Theatrical Trailer

Cast & Crew

Performance Credits
Charlotte Gainsbourg Dawn O'Neil
Marton Csokas George Elrick
Morgana Davies Simone
Aden Young Peter O'Neil
Gillian Jones Vonnie
Penne Hackforth-Jones Mrs. Johnson
Christian Bayers Tim
Tom Russell Lou
Gabriel Gotting Charlie
Zoe Boe Megane

Technical Credits
Julie Bertuccelli Director,Screenwriter
Nigel Bluck Cinematographer
Wendy de Waal Makeup
Yaël Fogiel Producer
François Gedigier Editor
Olivier Goinard Sound Mixer
Laetitia Gonzalez Producer
Gregoire Hetzel Score Composer
Steven Jones-Evans Set Decoration/Design
Elizabeth J. Mars Screenwriter
Olivier Mauvezin Sound/Sound Designer
Nicolas Moreau Sound Editor
Joanna Mae Park Costumes/Costume Designer
Sue Taylor Producer
Chris Webb Asst. Director

Scene Index

Disc #1 -- Tree
1. "How Long Will You Be Gone?" [11:40]
2. Dad? [9:54]
3. Choose to Be Happy [12:02]
4. George [12:11]
5. Christmas [9:18]
6. It's Coming Down [12:16]
7. "Would You Say We're a Happy Family?" [13:41]
8. Cyclone [9:45]
9. Clear Skies [5:30]
10. End Credits [4:25]
1. Can't Sleep [1:40]
2. At the Wake [2:48]
3. Uncle Jack Phones [1:41]
4. Watching Charlie [2:01]
5. Dad's Birthday [1:43]
6. The Neighbors [1:21]
7. Goodbyes [:55]
8. How to Listen [1:24]
9. The Accident [8:44]


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