Family Tree

Family Tree

***1/2

Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

In many ways the direct translation of L'Arbe Et Le Forêt - The Tree and The Forest - is a better one than it's English festival title The Family Tree, as despite being about skeletons rattling in the family knicker drawer, it is also concerned with wider, society cover-ups and the central character Frederick comes to be the 'tree' who represents an entire forest of others.

Still, this is first and foremost a family drama, with the gathering of three generations to mourn the passing of Frederick's eldest son sparking conflict when he fails to attend. His younger son Guilliame (François Négret), whose daliances with drink make him easily riled, is outraged, not least by his mother's tolerance of his father's failings. The rest of the family, including the ex-wife of the dead man and their daughter Delphine (Sabrina Seyvecou) and her boyfriend Rémi (Yannick Renier) are more indulgent but still can't understand why the family patriarch is failing to mourn with them.

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What emerges through the course of the film is a family secret that Frederick has been keeping since he spent time in a concentration camp during the war. It's a surprise revelation for the viewer as well as his family, meaning it is possible to share in their sense of shock and dislocation. After this, the film explores the way that revelations can richochet around a family, as one secret has lead to another, but also emphasises just how durable blood relationships are.

The pacing of co-directors Olivier Duscastel and Jacques Martineau is restrained and deliberate, possibly because the larger subject they are dealing with is a weighty one that they clearly feel passionate about. But as the camera pans over trees and the characters engage in another long-scene talkathon, the action begins to falter. Fortunately, the longeurs are tempered considerably by terrific performances, particularly from Marchand and Françoise Fabian, as his long-suffering and supportive wife, who add a depth of sympathy to the characters that stretches beyond the script. Intriguing initially and lyrical in places, this is for lovers of French family drama who are willing to overlook the film's more sedate moments.

Reviewed on: 25 Jun 2010
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Family Tree packshot
Family skeletons are unearthed by a father's refusal to attend the funeral of his first-born son.
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Festivals:

EIFF 2010

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The Flower Of Evil