Disclaimer: In the following review – one of three movies that I watched at the recently concluded Chicago International Film Festival 2010 in the OUTrageous category – I shall try to to avoid spoilers as much as possible for two reasons. First, Some of you may hate me if I told you everything about the movie. Second, Many of these movies are still doing their rounds and first screenings at film festivals around the world and have not yet been released in domestic markets for public viewing. So to adhere to common custom/courtesy and avoid studio lawsuits – I review and you shall read between the lines!
Runtime: 97 minutes
Windows. Bleak Starchy White Wooden Windows. I am not sure why they stuck with me but I came away from this movie feeling that had those windows not existed, were they not white and had they not been as many shots of every single character gazing or being gazed at through those windows - This movie would not have had the same palpably restrained sucker-punch impact that it does. Family Tree (or rather, the literal translation of the French name is ‘The Tree and The Forest’) is a French Drama centered around the life of a family patriarch Frederick (Guy Marchand ) and in a truly French way, it proceeds slowly…but surely.
The story centers around the family having gathered to mourn the death of the eldest son. However, Frederick fails to attend the funeral and this does not go down well with his younger son, Guilliame (François Négret) who enjoys the plentiful drink but in a charming French way – so I watch it and think, “my god he’s a falling drunk and slimy in some ways but I still don’t dislike him” . In the family circle are Frederick’s wife, the ex-wife of the dead elder son, his grandaughter Delphine (Sabrina Seyvecou) and her partner Rémi (Yannick Renier). Very early in the movie, Frederick’s secret is revealed – So the viewers aren’t left in suspense very long – but it feels like a long time. The reason for this being that the directors Olivier Ducastel [ who was at the Q & A session at the end of the movie ] and Jacques Martineau have paced the movie in a deliberate and almost languid manner. At first you find out Frederick was in a concentration camp during Nazi occupation. And then you find out a bit more …and more… and more (Hint: My favourite book speaks to this) What is remarkable is this a family drama with what appears to be not much drama. Even the few scenes where characters display emotion is tempered and played with much finesse. Thus, despite the horrifying nature of the events that smear the main character – Frederick’s past, the movie has warm undertones. This is partially because none of the recurring characters are despicably evil – They are family. Also, It is because there is music – Specifically, Wagner. Frederick has a predilection towards playing Wagner at high volumes and waking everyone in the house up. (Brain teaser: The connection between Frederick’s past and Wagner is self explanatory or google-able) Though at one point in the movie, Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 23 does make it’s way in and makes Delphine cry ( There is irony there ).
Guy Marchand who plays Frederick and his wife played by Françoise Fabian give amazing performances. The actor’s convincingly display the fuzziness of the relationship between their characters but yet show that it is overshadowed by love of a beautiful and precious kind – Just love. Nothing more, Nothing less. Delphine and Rémi played by Sabrina Seyvecou and Yannick Renier are in a comically well intended relationship. Both actors do a fine job of making that sentiment come through despite the strikingly different personalities that their characters appear to be. Family Tree is worth watching in every which way – It is about Family , about the good and the bad – and is anti-climatic to the traditional stories we hear about families disowning queer children. In this movie, there are no queer children. And not even much queer. But there is plenty of family.