Icon Film Distribution
Booed at Cannes yet winner of that Festival's top prize, the Palme D'or, The Tree of Life will no doubt similarly divide audiences at this year's Sydney Film Festival: beautiful, epic, ambitious or self-indulgent artistic wank?
Perhaps the most anticipated film of 2011, certainly for cinephiles and lovers of cinema (Harry Potter fans, understandably, have other things on their mind), The Tree of Life is director Terrence Malick's first film since 2005's The New World and just the fifth of his almost 40-year filmmaking career. It's that kind of limited output, combined with the all-round secrecy surrounding every Malick film, which makes this one not just a film but an event.
Following Cannes, some of the surrounding The Tree of Life mystery has been removed. Yes, there are dinosaurs. And Sean Penn, but neither has much screen time. There is, however, a solid performance by Brad Pitt as a 1950's father and husband whose disappointment with his life has him practising a form of tough love on his three sons; it is through the eyes of the eldest boy which we view this world.
Post-Cannes reviews have also revealed The Tree of Life to be concerned with no less than the birth of the universe, the meaning of life and, possibly, the afterlife. The beginning and end sections of the film are mostly pre-occupied with this 'before and after' life with Malick depicting the former in a series of beautiful images and the latter in a beach-like Heaven. These segments of the film, for all their beauty, will test many peoples' patience; so, too, the whispered dialogue.
But it's in the film's middle section, in small town Texas with Pitt, the boys and their mother, played by Jessica Chastain, where the film finds its rhythm and heart. Malick avoids traditional narrative, even dialogue, but the journey of this eldest boy as he navigates the competing influences of parents, is no less involving for that.
You can decide for yourself if The Tree of Life is a masterpiece or merely overrated, but if you do have the opportunity to catch it at the Sydney Film Festival then by all means do.
The Tree of Life opens in Australian cinemas June 30. A full review will be posted on The LennoX Files closer to its release.