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As the young widow Dawn O’Neil, Charlotte Gainsbourg grieves like crazy for her husband who dies during the opening moments of The Tree. Dawn can barely rouse herself from her bed or tend to the needs of her four children, ranging in age from toddler to teen. Months go by, then she finds a job, and by the end of her first week at work she’s making out in a bar with the shop’s owner. Pacing problems and shallow psychological inquiries plague this film almost as much as the overworked metaphor that supplies the film’s title. Nevertheless, the performances of Gainsbourg and Morgana Davies, who plays her 8-year-old daughter Simone, shine like glorious gems.
The O’Neil family lives in rural Australia in a house built on stilts, which sits beside an ancient tree. The tree’s gnarled and enormous roots threaten the home’s plumbing and it's a nuisance to the neighbors, but after her father’s death, Simone comes to believe that her father inhabits the tree. Before long, Dawn climbs its branches, too, and begins talking with her deceased spouse. Julie Bertuccelli, in her follow-up to 2003’s Since Otar Left, has adapted Judy Pascoe’s 2002 novel, Our Father Who Art in the Tree, for the screen. As things progress, it becomes clear that only an act of God or a heavy-duty chain saw can impede this tree’s influence over their lives. Sometimes the family tree must be uprooted, and so it goes when one is left with more metaphor than movie.