Dir: Julie Bertuccelli. France-Australia, 2010. 100mins


Seven years after her successful debut, Since Otar Left, Julie Bertuccelli is finally back with her follow-up feature. She went all the way to Australia to shoot it and her heroine this time is not an octogenarian but only eight years-old, but otherwise the theme is strangely similar: dealing with a loss.

A small, intimate, moving little picture, with Charlotte Gainsbourg’s presence in the role of the mother certain to help its prospects.

In this case, it is little Simone (Davies), whose father dies and she somehow believes is reincarnated in the huge fig tree next to her home. A small, intimate, moving little picture, with Charlotte Gainsbourg’s presence in the role of the mother certain to help its prospects, this surprisingly unprepossessing item, chosen for Cannes’ closing night spot, should do respectably well theatrically and much better, later on, on TV and home entertainment.

A sudden heart attack deprives Dawn (Gainsbourg) of her loving husband, Peter (Young). Devastated, she can hardly cope with his death, while each one of her four children reacts differently. The two older boys seem to be pretty much in control, though little things indicate they are deeply shaken. The three year-old toddler doesn’t speak yet, while angelic looking Simone decides to live in a sort of denial.

Father hasn’t departed, he has simply moved into the gigantic tree next to their home, and when she climbs into it she claims she can hear her dad talking to her, advising her, giving her pointers on her school chores. She even convinces Dawn there might be something to it, mother and daughter sharing a symbolic tie with the tree.

Eight months later, Dawn, who has never worked in her entire life, is hired by George (Csokas), the local plumber, to be his assistant and soon seems ready for more intimate relations. Simone naturally interprets this as a betrayal of her father’s memory, and the tree seems to respond in a similar fashion and sends its mighty roots to shaking the house’s foundations. When it seem the only option is to cut it down, Simone sets up house among its branches. George’s attempt to do something about it is thwarted at the last moment and it is only the forces of nature that finally provide the ultimate solution.

Given the house’s location and the landscape around it, nature is an essential component of the story, intervening every once in a while and with all due respect to little Morgana Davies and to Charlotte Gainsbourg - both touching in their respective parts - the real star of the movie, as the title indicates, is the huge fig tree which sends its branches and roots in every direction, looking for all purposes, like a giant octopus, to quote one of Dawn’s distraught neighbours.

Glowingly shot by Nigel Bluck, Bertuccelli’s film has all the compassionate approach required for the occasion, but somehow, seems to deliberately refrain from probing beyond the skin-deep appearance of the circumstances. Working from a novel by Judy Pascoe, both the direction and the script’s attitude are somehow a bit too literal and objective, by adopting the p.o.v. of one character might have added to its dramatic impact.

Production companies: Les Films du Poisson, Taylor Media

Producers: Yael Fogiel, Sue Taylor

International Sales: Memento Films International (+33) 1 53 34 90 20

Screenplay: Julie Bertuccelli, adapted from Our Father Who Art in the Tree by Judy Pascoe

Cinematography: Nigel Bluck

Production designer: Steven Jones-Evans

Editor: Francois Gedigier

Music: Gregoire Hetzel

Main Cast: Charlotte Gainsbourg, Marton Csokas, Morgana Davies, Aden Young, Gillian Jones, Penne Hackforth-Jones, Christian Bayers, Tom Russell, Gabriel Gotting, Zoe Boe