Netflix Gener-a-thon: Emotional movies featuring a strong female lead (Post 3/5)

The Tree (2010)

Director: Julie Bertuccelli. Her first feature film after years of playing AD to the likes of Krystof Kieslowski.

Country: Australia/France

Cast highlights: Possessing androgynous, unusual looks and a wispy British accent, Charlotte Gainsbourg –the offspring of British model Jane Birkin and French singer Serge Gainsbourg- has been a favorite of art-house film directors, most notably Lars von Trier.

Netflix User’s Rating: 3.2/5

One – sentence Synopses: After the death of their father and husband Peter (Aden Young), a family tries to deal with their grief while suspecting their loved one’s soul lives on in the giant fig tree in their backyard.

Emotional? : Like last week’s Secret Sunshine, The Tree explores the all-encompassing effect of grief on an individual’s life. Dawn and her four children fall apart after the death of, what we imagine to be, their incredibly loving husband and father. They are left in stasis, as stuck as the giant over-grown fig tree in their backyard.  The tree provides an obvious parallel for the family’s inability to let go of the memory of their father and husband, as it’s overgrown roots increasingly infringe on the space of their home and threaten to tear it apart. When it appears as if Dawn is starting to move on with her life, finding a job and becoming romantically involved with her employer, any progress is hindered by the looming presence of the tree. The supernatural metaphor offered here is tenuous at best, bathing The Tree’s narrative of emotional struggle in a wash of sentimentality. Despite some truly stunning landscape cinematography that brings early Terrence Malick to mind, the overt symbolism that the film leans on prevents it from imparting the kind of emotional impact it wants to.

Strength of the female lead: The Tree focuses its attention on two female leads, Dawn and her daughter Simone. Unfortunately, both of the female characters are underdeveloped and, at times, outright grating. The stronger of the two is the feisty Simone, the child most psychologically affected by her father’s death. She is the first to develop a belief that her father is speaking to her family through the tree, using her connection with the tree as her strategy for coping with his death. While Simone’s fierce attachment to the tree is understood as her devotion to her father’s memory, it stands in conflict with the well-being of the family as it begins to destroy their home. Simone has a precocity and world-awareness to her that is a familiar trait in child characters cast in emotional dramas. But instead of these qualities endearing her with an admiring sympathy, in the context of this particular story she comes off as bratty and unruly.

Doing little to help her daughter’s case is Dawn, virtually incapacitated by her own struggle with grief. Gainsbourg – usually a redemptive presence in any film – is given little to work with as Dawn, a woman left utterly disempowered and confused by her husband’s death. We come to understand that this is a result of Dawn’s upbringing and early marriage, a consistent co-dependency on others that makes her just as emotionally immature as Simone. Dawn is infantilized, unable to make decisions for herself or her family until another man- the bland plumber she works for- comes in to her life. While Dawn’s actions at the end of the film suggest she has gained some independent agency, it comes too late to redeem what may have been complex facets of her character.

 Add to instant queue?: Not nearly as emotionally rooted as the title would suggest, The Tree feels more like a lily pad as it wistfully floats of the surface of deep emotional themes it attempts to tackle. Let this one glide along the peripheries of the Netflix shelves.

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