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Cannes Review: “The Tree.”

Cannes Review: “The Tree.” (photo)

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Reviewed at the 2010 Cannes Film Festival.

During Julie Bertuccelli’s “The Tree,” closing this year’s Cannes Film Festival out of competition, I started mentally tracing back the chain of decisions that landed the film on-screen before me — in no small part because that process was far more engaging and diverting than anything playing out on-screen in Bertuccelli’s maudlin, mawkish pagan-pastoral grief-and-growth melodrama.

Who thought it was a good idea to have “The Tree” close Cannes? Going back even farther, who thought “The Tree” would make a good film? Adapting Julie Pacoe’s novel “Our Father Who Art in the Tree,” “The Tree” offers audiences a mix of syrupy sentiment and high-fiber sensitivity, squandering Charlotte Gainsbourg’s rough, ragged and real charisma on a familiar plot line dragged down by even more familiar soft-soap cliches and entirely predictable plot turns.

In the Australian outback, the O’Neil family is happy; so happy, in fact, that anyone who’s seen a film will wonder which of them will die, and when, mere milliseconds after we meet start to meet them. Dad Peter (Aden Young) has a sudden heart attack — clutching his chest, slumping over the wheel — leaving his wife Dawn (Gainsbourg) to founder in her grief and try to help the O’Neil’s clan four children cope in the wake of the loss.

05212010_thetree2.jpgSimone (Morgana Davies) — the second-youngest, the only girl, golden-haired and plucky — becomes convinced that she can hear her father speaking to her through the huge sprawling fig tree that looms over their Queensland home’s yard. Dawn, herself shattered, doesn’t object to her daughter’s coping mechanism, and even seeks comfort in that fantasy herself.

It’s not that the story of a family stricken by grief is an unacceptable one for a film to explore and articulate; it’s just that “The Tree” consistently and constantly takes the path of least resistance towards its conclusion, with only the occasional natural disaster — not character’s choices or actions — driving the engine of the film’s plot.

When Dawn stumbles into a local plumber’s — she’s got a problem with frogs in the pipes — not only is the owner George (Martin Csokas) stunningly handsome, single and sensitive, he’s also looking to hire part-time help. (Even more odd is the idea that despite their town looking approximately as large as a postage stamp, Dawn and George clearly have never met.) When the fig tree’s tangled roots start to disrupt plumbing and the fence and porch of the sniffy next-door neighbor, of course there will be heated discussions of whether or not the tree must come down, with Simone pulling a Julia “Butterfly” Hill and moving into the branches when George comes by with a winch and a saw to try and help Dawn out.

05212010_thetree3.jpgEveryone involved in “The Tree” is clearly well-intentioned (as eldest son Tim, Tom Russell stands out as he tries to force the family to move forward), and one can only imagine how the film might have been improved if another hand had been involved in shaping the material instead of Bertuccelli directing her own adaptation of the novel. But watching Gainsbourg cry, sleep and, sniff, dare to be happy again for nearly two hours is so clearly beneath her that it’s painfully obvious how much she’s wasted. Cinematographer Nigel Bluck gets some beautiful images out of the muck of the script — the wilds of Australia remain as bleakly picturesque as ever — but, again, the dreary conventionality and by-the-numbers numbness of “The Tree” are hard to take.

Someone must have gotten “The Tree” to Cannes somehow, and my curiosity about that is far more interesting than anything in the film’s blandly soothing hundred minutes, which amount to nothing more than re-hashed Book of Ecclesiastes homilies with an Australian accent: To everything, there is a season, and so on. “The Tree” doesn’t feel like a film that should be debuting at Cannes’ premiere venue, le Palais des Festivals; it feels like it should be screening on le channel du Hallmark.

“The Tree” does not yet have US distribution.

[Photos: “The Tree,” Taylor Media, 2010]

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The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at IFC.com

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Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

It’s the final countdown to Christmas and thanks to IFC’s movie marathon all Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, you can revel in classic ’80s films AND find inspiration for your last-minute gifts. Here are our recommendations, if you need a head start:

Musical Instrument

Great analog entertainment substitute when you refuse to give your kid the Nintendo Switch they’ve been drooling over.

Breakfast In Bed

Any significant other or child would appreciate these Uncle Buck-approved flapjacks. Just make sure you’re not stuck on clean up duty.

Cocktail Supplies

You’ll need them to get through the holidays.

Dance Lessons

So you can learn to shake-shake-shake (unless you know ghosts willing to lend a hand).

Comfy Clothes

With all the holiday meals, there may be some…embigenning.



Get even more great inspiration all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC, and remember…