Today: February 28, 2024
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The Tree

Refreshingly cast against type, Charlotte Gainsbourg plays Dawn, who wins £64 million in the EuroMillions lottery, buys her own private island and spends the rest of the film frolicking on the beach in Louis Vuitton, laughing uproariously and generally having a whale of a time.

Refreshingly cast against type, Charlotte Gainsbourg plays Dawn, who
wins £64 million in the EuroMillions lottery, buys her own private island and
spends the rest of the film frolicking on the beach in Louis Vuitton, laughing
uproariously and generally having a whale of a time.

Of course, she doesn’t really.
No-one ever casts Charlotte Gainsbourg in a film where she is in any way
happy or where good things happen to her.
It’s just not done.
Charlotte doesn’t do happy characters. You cast Charlotte in films to be miserable. Or to be just that little bit, well, mental, in that way that only French
actresses can get away with being.
You cast her to weep, you cast her to wail, to rend her clothes and tear
out her hair. You cast her to
wander through the film numb and mute, consumed by grief, joylessly
masturbating and self-harming. If
Lars Von Trier ever does a film of Ancient Greek gloom-fest The Trojan Women you know he’ll have
Charlotte play all the major roles, Eddie Murphy-style. It’ll probably be only marginally less
depressing than Norbit.

In The Tree, Charlotte plays
Dawn a happy, contented wife and mother living in rural splendor in a rambling
farmhouse in the Australian Outback.
Happy? Contented? Charlotte Gainsbourg? That can’t be allowed to last, so 15
minutes in her lovely hubby pops his clogs at the wheel of his ute, and crashes
into the huge Moreton Bay fig tree and thumpingly obvious metaphor that stands
next to their house, leaving her with 4 children to bring up alone.

A giant organic sentinel watching over the household sheltering beneath
its branches, the tree is practically a silent member of the family, literally
in the case of willful daddy’s girl Simone (Morgana Davies) who, convinced that
the spirit of her dead father now resides in the tree, spends hours sitting in
its branches, communing with him, particularly when her mother enters into a
tentative mid-life romance with local plumber George (Marton Csokas).

As the tree begins to invade the home (bat in the kitchen, toads in the
loo, roots that block the plumbing, a wayward branch that trashes Dawn’s
bedroom) Dawn becomes increasingly convinced that Simone may just be right and
starts spending her own quality time lolling in its comforting branches. But when the tree starts to encroach on
a neighbour’s land, forcing Dawn to consider cutting it down, Simone’s stubborn
refusal to allow the tree’s destruction jeapordises both their home and Dawn’s
relationship with George.

Suffused with a tender, wistful sadness, The Tree is a refreshingly schmaltz-free study of familial grief. Gainsbourg’s grieving widow here is as
restrained and subtle as her grieving mother in Lars Von Trier’s darker
portrait of loss, Antichrist, was a
rabid, hysterical, vengeful harpy though it does make you wonder if she only makes
tree-themed films now. Thankfully The Tree is more treehugger than Antichrist‘s treehumper. Maybe Charlotte will cameo in The Hobbit as a sentient tree? As the bratty but endearing Simone,
Morgana Davies gives a performance of depth and maturity and her scenes with
Csokas’s George crackle with the pain her father’s death and her stubborn
refusal to even entertain the idea of someone replacing him in her mother’s
affections.

While it’s a little too laidback for it’s own good, The Tree is a rewarding study of grief and loss.

But just once I’d like to see Charlotte Gainsbourg in a film where she
gets to dress up and have a laugh rather spend all her time disheveled and
grieving with a bubble of snot at the side of her nose. It’s not much to ask.

David Watson

David Watson is a screenwriter, journalist and 'manny' who, depending on time of day and alcohol intake could be described as a likeable misanthrope or a carnaptious bampot. He loves about 96% of you but there's at least 4% he'd definitely eat in the event of a plane crash. Email: david.watson@filmjuice.com

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