Directed by Julie Bertuccelli
Starring Charlotte Gainsbourg, Morgana Davies, Marton Csokas
If there were an Oscar category for best casting of non-human characters, the giant Moreton Bay fig tree in Julie Bertuccelli’s “The Tree” would be a shoo-in. It’s a stunning, soulful presence, wider than a house and thick with venerable branches.
The tree resides in the Australian countryside and belongs to a family of six — Dawn (Charlotte Gainsbourg), her husband and their four children. The tree is introduced under tragic circumstances when Dawn’s husband unexpectedly dies beneath its branches.
As the family tries to cope, the 8-year-old daughter (Morgana Davies) begins hearing her father in the tree and spends hours in its branches, chatting with his spirit. Dawn finds solace in the tree as well, so even when the root system starts wreaking havoc on their home, arborcide is out of the question.
“The Tree” is a moving story about grief and the resilience of family ties — and it’s a testament to Bertuccelli’s instinctual filmmaking that the movie never feels as weighty as that last sentence reads on paper.Gainsbourg is raw, as usual, but it’s the child actors, especially Davies, who really stand out for their organic performances. Add to this the achingly idyllic setting — tranquil fields, rustic home with a porch and hammock — and you have quite a profound tableau.
“The Tree” can feel a bit too sweet at times, but this is intuitive, deeply felt storytelling at its best. It’s no small feat to direct a story that is so reassuringly usual, but that’s exactly what Bertuccelli does.