In The Tree (2010), Charlotte Gainsbourg plays Dawn, an Anglo-Frenchwoman living with her Australian husband Peter (Aden Young) and their four children - teen Tim (Christian Byers) , 10-year-old Lou (Tom Russell), toddler Charlie (Gabriel Gotting) and eight-year-old Simone (Morgana Davies)- in the Queensland outback. Peter’s sudden death throws the family into disorder and grief, and is followed shortly thereafter by Simone's announcement that she’s able to communicate with her father through the leaves of the large tree that’s next to the family’s house.
Adapted from a novel by Judy Pascoe, Julie Bertuccelli’s second feature following the superb Since Otar Left (2003) is an equally distinctive - though tonally very different - family drama. Despite the premise, symbolic and spiritual resonances are downplayed; instead, Bertuccelli locates the substance and texture of the movie in the marvellously messy and realistic scenes depicting the family’s daily life. The Australian landscapes are filmed expressively, and the performances that the director gets from her cast are superb across the board. Davies’s angelic looks belie a wonderfully tough-minded and un-cutesy portrayal of the stubborn Simone, and her scenes with Russell, Gotting and Byers convey sibling tensions and complicities with total naturalness and believability. Marton Csokas, so very bad in Peter Hall’s Twelfth Night production at the National Theatre earlier this year, is easy and charming as the new man who (to Simone’s chagrin) enters Dawn’s life. And, as Dawn, Gainsbourg brings her particular candour and emotional transparency to the screen. Some developments in the final third feel schematic, but the movie has built up so much good will - and such a close rapport with its characters - by this stage that the elements of contrivance don’t seem to matter very much. Highly recommended.