Sunday, August 08, 2010

The Tree

One of my guilty pleasures of late has been to make sure that I see Shortland Street: not the current shows, but the "from the beginning" version. So right now I'm in early 1993 and Martin Csokas is playing the very sweet but very clumsy Dr Leonard Dodds:
Another long term pleasure has been to watch movies with Charlotte Gainsbourg. Seeing them together seemed inconceivable. Seeing them playing together in an Australian movie even more so, yet that is exactly what The Tree is. Sure, it is a French co-production but it is shot and set in Australia (shot in Queensland, Boonah to be precise, but I had the distinct impression we were supposed to think it was New South Wales). The scenery was gorgeous in a spare sort of way - I've found a couple of photos:
Even better were the shots taken when everything was misty and mysterious, which seemed to happen quite a lot. Of course, there was a tree as well (a Moreton Bay Fig, to be precise, imported to the spot to do the job):
The story was quite a simple one (I don't think I'd go quite as far as one reviewer, who called it a "painfully maudlin, unambitious and oversensitive melodrama" which had no place in Cannes at all, let alone closing it). Peter, who we see in the opening scene driving a truck with an entire house on the back (and hanging out in it cleaning his teeth when his partner takes over driving duties, has a heart attack and dies. Dawn (Gainsbourg) is left to fend as best she can, with four kids and no skills at all. This makes it a little odd when she wanders into town to find the plumber (Csokas) (there are frogs in the toilet and unexpected eruptions elsewhere) and he just gives her a job. Of course, he and she start to get it on, and this does not please Simone, the 8 year old daughter. She's convinced that her dad is talking to her through the tree, and sees great significance in a large piece of the tree crashes into Dawn's bedroom. Of course, there could be a logical explanation: the season is very dry, the root system is trying to cope but the tree is not getting enough sustenance.

I thought Morgana Davies in particular did a fantastic job as Simone who, faced with the choice to be sad or happy, went with happy

and of course Charlotte Gainsbourg was great (but after Antichrist, this role was probably a walk in the park for her). Marton Csokas didn't seem to have all that much to do either - he had to be a plumber (which must resonate for a New Zealand audience as he was such a clutz he kind of needed a plumber to follow him around) and be the boy-friend. There was only one scene where he was really pushed, when there was a show-down between him, Dawn and Simone - I would have liked to see him do more. It was funny seeing him nearly two decades later (he has been in lots of other films, but I don't think I've seen any, certainly not recently). He still moved in a way that reminded me of Leonard. The tree was something of an actor as well: it posed quite the threat to their house.

A couple of things struck me as a bit odd about the movie: there's a great emphasis in the panning shots on the rural nature of where the family lives, yet there's a grumpy old neighbour close enough to have the tree's roots intrude into her wash-house.The tustle over whether the tree had to come down and then the storm might point to the futility of human choices, but might have simply been a curious plotting choice. Then there was the end, which just didn't satisfy me at all, it was neither of the things I thought they might do.

There's a nice interview with the cast and director (Julie Bertucelli) and some footage from the film on the SBS site.



Anonymous FONTY said...

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¿noʎ ǝɹɐ ʍoɥ ¡oןןǝɥ

4:25 PM  

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