Published Jul 07, 2011Cinematic portrayals of grief typically dote on the outward appearances of such, depicting characters trapped in cycles of self-destruction or perpetual reminiscence, crying and screaming with emblazoned vigour when not striking out at the people in their lives. And, yes, this is an existing form of grief, but more often people stick to themselves or attempt to repress things, satisfying quotidian expectations while suffering silently.
In Julie Bertuccelli's thoughtfully restrained and quietly beautiful exploration of mourning, mother of four Dawn O'Neill (Charlotte Gainsbourg) handles the unexpected death of her husband in a less than flattering manner. She shuts herself off from her children, and the world, only to emerge as a vessel for self, courting local plumber George (Marton Csokas) while her children stay at home alone.
It's easy, albeit glib and superficial, to pass judgment on such behaviour, seeing as the role of mother as chaste eternal caregiver is ubiquitous in most modern global cultures, but Bertuccelli isn't interested in simplifying or categorizing these actions as necessarily abject. They're mirrored primarily with the more identifiable and straightforward grieving process of her eight-year-old daughter, Simone (Morgana Davies), who believes her father's soul has passed into the oppressively large fig tree adjacent their home.
This metaphor isn't subtle, nor is it meant to be, as the tree begins to attack the home during a drought, spreading its roots into their sewer system and knocking out the foundation, literally breaking down a wall when Dawn starts seeing a new man. While Simone actively embraces this ideation, Dawn responds passively but knowingly, similarly defending the tree when neighbours complain, finding comfort in its looming presence.
With contemplative pacing and ponderous, skyline-heavy cinematography, the process of living with, and running away from, tragedy is handled thoughtfully in The Tree without any undue saccharine embellishment. What's powerful here is the low-key reconnection with life in a world where mortality is inevitable. (Mongrel Media)