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The Tree - movie review

The Tree - movie review

The Tree arrived in competition at the Sydney Film Festival after a standing ovation on closing night at Cannes last month.

A lyrical drama about a family dealing with grief, it comes from a rare union between French and Australian filmmaking talents.

The director, Julie Bertuccelli (Since Otar Left), and star, Charlotte Gainsbourg (Antichrist, I'm Not There, 21 Grams), are French. But the setting is so Australian it could feature in a tourism commercial - parched country Queensland, where laconic Peter (Aden Young), Dawn (Gainsbourg) and their four children live in a modest house next to a Moreton Bay fig.

That tree becomes part of the family's life when Peter dies from a heart attack while driving his truck. Hit especially hard, given she was riding in the back at the time and considered herself his favourite, is eight-year-old Simone (Morgana Davies). As the weeks pass, she becomes convinced he is living on in the tree and whispering to her. Dawn starts to believe it too.

But their way of dealing with grief is challenged when Dawn takes up with the town's plumber, George (Marton Csokas), who clears the roots that are expanding almost supernaturally quickly around the house, seeking nourishment in the drought. When George decides the fig has to be cut down, Simone angrily resists.

It's no surprise that filmmakers in Australia and France were drawn to Judy Pascoe's novel Our Father Who Art In The Tree given its rich imaginative possibilities. But while the film mostly works as a poetic allegory - bar a question over the ending - it stops short of being as absorbing and touching as the story promises.

The star is Davies, who is a delight as Simone. She overshadows Gainsbourg, who plays Dawn with an awkward English accent that hardly suits a woman who has lived in country Queensland for 15 years.

- Review by Garry Maddox for SMH

The Tree will open nationally later this year
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