Sunday, February 10, 2013

Out of its tree

We watched the world’s most boring movie last night, always hoping something would move forward, but no.  The Tree, an Australian movie with French co-production, was about a family of four children whose father dies suddenly.  The mother goes into total grief and depression and can’t seem to move forward.  The tree becomes a symbol of the father’s ‘presence’ for the only girl in the family (Morgana Davies) - a precocious nine-year old - and later for the mother also (Charlotte Gainsbourg), but after a while you wonder if it isn’t having a negative effect on them, since neither of them are coping with the change that’s come on them.  The tree is also taking over the neighbourhood, its roots spreading not only through their large property but also through the neighbours' places. The mother meets a guy (Martin Csokas) whom she likes and it looks as though things are going to go somewhere, but when he offers to cut the tree down (after a huge branch has broken off and crashed into the mother’s bedroom, and after the tree has suddenly come into bloom and spread itself everywhere) both mother and daughter refuse, the latter going up into the branches and staying there.  The dead father, seemingly, (who seemed a pretty nice bloke when he was alive) has apparently become malevolent in death.  Exit the new man in the mother's life.

Thankfully, at the end of the movie, along comes a cyclone and knocks the tree over – onto the house, pretty much wrecking it.  The family 'decide' to move - ‘anywhere, somewhere, ’ says the mother - seeming not to have learned a thing, and leaving the bloke behind altogether.   This last scene, between the mother and the man, is played by Gainsbourg as though she had overcome some challenge.  Ah, no she hadn't.

The thing is weird, with a terribly flat performance by Gainsbourg.  You couldn’t tell whether she was just an awful actress (which is unlikely, given the amount of work she’s done) or whether the part (or director?) just didn’t give her any room for contrast.  Her unceasing underplaying of the thing makes her altogether hard to be sympathetic with, and when the little girl becomes harder and harder and won’t break, we lose sympathy with her too. 

Evan Williams, in The Australian, says...'I shall never see a film as lovely as The Tree...comes close to perfection.'  David Stratton, in At the Movies, writes: 'Beautifully made, beautifully acted.'  And Phillipa Hawker in The Age, says 'A visual and kinetic tour de force that has startling impact.'  Which just goes to show you can't go by the blurbs on the DVD cover.  There's little loveliness (apart perhaps from the cinematography), little perfection, little tour de force.  And not much startling impact.  Sorry guys, you got this one wrong.
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