Ten-year-old Simone (Morgana Davies) has just lost her dad, felled by a sudden heart attack, and she finds solace high in the branches of a massive fig tree that grows outside her home under the big skies of rural Queensland. Sometimes, late at night, she thinks she can hear his voice; her mother, Dawn (Charlotte Gainsbourg), wrecked with grief, is sceptical at first, but soon finds herself also lingering in the branches, having a smoke and talking quietly with her missing man.
This might sound a bit loopy, but grief can make you that way, and “The Tree” is very much about finding a path through the abyss of loss. Based on the novel by Australian author Judy Pascoe, director Julie Bertuccelli’s second film is an affectionate look at family life in rural Australia, anecdotal and lackadaisically paced. It’s a bit heavy on the symbolism — with the tree’s roots strangling the house’s plumbing, while a branch crashes into Dawn’s bedroom shortly after she shows signs of moving on — but features great performances from its leads, especially young Davies, who is clearly going to be one of Oz’s great actresses in a decade.
Gainsbourg is as intense as usual, though these days it’s hard to erase the sour aftertaste of “Antichrist” when watching her perform. Superior cinematography and a pensive score help the film immensely.