The Tree, Julie Bertuccelli's second feature film, is a French-Australian co-production set in rural Australia, where Dawn and Peter O’Neil live in a sprawling home with their four children. Peter makes his living as a house mover: there's a great shot of him driving his huge flatbed truck through the outback at night with an entire house on the truckbed behind him, the roofline lit by lanterns. When Peter dies suddenly from a heart attack, his pickup truck rolls slowly across their yard and comes to rest against the trunk of the enormous Moreton Bay Fig tree which dominates their property and overshadows the house.
Charlotte Gainsbourg stars as Dawn, and a precocious Morgana Davies plays 8-year-old Simone, who is perhaps the one most affected by her father's death. But in many ways the true star of the film is the magnificent Moreton Bay Fig tree of the title. Simone comes to believe that her father's spirit somehow inhabits the tree, and there are scenes where we see Simone high in the branches talking to her father. And as the tree's limbs creak and the leaves rustle, it seems almost a sentient thing. I don't want to give too much away, but we quickly come to care about the tree's fate as much as we care about the fate of its human costars.
I got a kick out of a couple of credits that I spotted at the end of the film. First, an entire team of 4 or 5 people are credited with the casting of the tree itself. (I wonder: does that tree now have an agent?) And second: we are assured that "No animals or trees were harmed in the making of this film"; nice to see CGI used for something more worthwhile than Na'vi and Transformers.