Directed by Julie Bertuccelli
To plant Julie Bertuccelli's The Tree next to the other "tree" film sprouting from this year's Cannes is almost unfair; one standing like a mighty, millennial sequoia, grown immense with all available water, nutrients, and sunlight—the other a long, oddly gnarled, almost... Charlotte Gainsbourg-shaped growth, angling through the thicket toward the sky.
Plots like The Tree's are practically as old as nature itself: suddenly and tragically losing her beloved husband, Dawn (Gainsbourg) is left to manage their four young children and ramshackle house-on-stilts, somewhere in rural Australia, in the shadow of the enormous, knuckled span of a neighboring fig tree.
Dawn's scattered and depressed, so when Simone (the boisterous Morgana Davies), her 8-year-old daughter, decides that Dad is still speaking—through the fortunately climbable fig tree—she does not protest all that much; when a rotting branch crashes through the bedroom wall, covering the mattress, Dawn beds down beneath. A hunky, helpful plumber, a nearing storm—little of this will surprise and little will please, barring Nigel Bluck's cinematography, with faded meadows and brilliant sunsets filling in to awe and distract. But glory be to Gainsbourg, whose Dawn becomes as real a lady as we're likely to see on screen—wounded, with a voice for strangers and another for home—and the kids, who almost shake their filmic birthright of impossible cuteness. The Tree's blatant narrative book-keeping is occasionally beautiful—in the opening and closing shots of homes drawn across the outback, for instance—but mostly just bare.
Opens July 15