There’s indeed a lot of “tree” in Julie Bertuccelli’s bluntly titled film. They seem to factor somehow into practically every exquisitely composed frame, and certain segments appear as if filmed from their perspective. Even the title song features the lyrics “I’m just a tree.”
Symbolism abounds, but most literally the title refers to the majestic fig tree that towers over the modest house in the Australian bush where the six-person O’Neill clan happily reside—that is, until the sudden death of the father leaves Dawn (Charlotte Gainsbourg) a heartbroken mess. The ensuing family mourning is touching but also awkward, because the child actors aren’t always the most natural performers, and Gainsbourg’s not at her most comfortable (delicacy isn’t exactly her strong suit).
Better is Marton Csokas, as a hunky plumber who arrives on the scene, lightening up the mood a bit. But the sole daughter, who believes (and convinces Dawn) that her father’s spirit lives on within the tree, doesn’t approve. Neither, apparently, does the tree itself, which “retaliates” by crashing its branches through the house’s windows. Eventually the tree proves to be a menace in more harmful ways: when its roots begin to destroy surrounding pipes, neighbors want it chopped down, which would effectively sever the father from his surviving family much sooner than they are prepared for. All of this would be much easier to write off as silly and self-serious, if it weren’t so involving.
© 2011 by The Film Society of Lincoln Center