The O’Neils are a very happy family. But then one day, father Peter (Aden Young) suddenly dies and leaves his wife Dawn (Charlotte Gainsbourg) behind with their four kids, aged 3 to 17. Dawn falls into a deep depression, which leaves the oldest son Tim (Christian Byers) to take care of the family, while daughter Simone (Morgana Davies) finds solace in the belief that her father now lives in the huge fig tree in the family garden.
The Tree is a calm, introspective, gorgeous-looking film with excellent performances that I would have enjoyed so much more if I hadn’t taken an instant dislike to Dawn as a character. [I realise that I’ve been saying this quite a lot in the past few weeks, but…] I just wanted to slap some sense into her.
I haven’t read the novel the book is based on but it’s pretty apparent that it’s of the “literary” kind. Meaning that, apart from the fact that it doesn’t really have a plot, it has about 500 layers of symbolism. The tree alone could probably give you enough material for a minor literary theory paper. This translates surprisingly well on screen and despite its calm plotlessness, the film is never really boring.
Especially since Julie Bertucelli and her cinematographer Nigel Bluck manage to create the most wonderful visuals. Seriously, this film (and the tree and Australia) is absolutely stunning. A feast for the eyes.
But I just couldn’t stand Dawn. I mean, I understand depression. I’ve had it myself (though not very strongly), I know people who are depressed, I know what it feels like, I know what it does to people and I think I’m pretty good at not judging people for being depressed and unmotivated and without any energy whatsoever [and this judging is much more common than you might think]. I don’t believe that that was the reason for my dislike of Dawn. But the way she treats her kids made my skin crawl from the incompetence of it all and she just didn’t seem to be competent at anything, really. It was rather infuriating.
Dawn was about as adult as 8-year-old Simone (who was the typical precocious literary-novel-child, so a little more adult than your average 8-year-old, but still) [wonderfully played, btw, by Morgana Davies who managed to give Simone enough cuteness and childish earnestness to not make her annoying] and the only people who really seemed to take on any kind of responsibility at all were guys – Tim and later Dawn’s new boyfriend George (Marton Csokas). Which was a little redeemed by the ending, where Dawn finally gets on her own two feet, but too little and too late.
Summarising: Maybe you’ll like Dawn better. Then you’ll probably enjoy this film.