Monday, 18 July 2011
Monday, 11 July 2011
Saturday, 9 July 2011
The Tree That Strangles the Life Out of You
Someone, somewhere in the city was dumped by her boyfriend yesterday. Distraught, she did what any rational person does in that situation and turned to a mate. Equally rational, her girlfriend told her “Right! I know what you need. You and I are going to have a girls’ night out. We will go to the cinema and watch The Tree of Life. It’s had amazing reviews and you can forget all about the bastard and ogle Brad Pitt.”
I dread to think what state that poor woman is in this morning. The Tree of Life is epoch-changing in the sheer scale of its awfulness.
Let me be clear: it is not so bad it’s good. It is please-God-let-there-be-a-global-Caliphate-so-that-films-like-this-can’t-get-made bad.
The staggering thing is the acting is actually perfectly respectable. Painful though it may be for the heterosexual male community to admit, Brad Pitt is much more than a pretty face and I had hitherto taken Sean Penn’s presence in a movie to be a sure sign that it is worth watching. Jessica Chastain and the child actors are very good too. The director and producers (one of whom was Pitt) have worked remarkably hard to fashion something so abominable under such circumstances.
The plot, such as it is, revolves around a family, headed by Pitt and Chastain, who lose a son. Penn plays a surviving brother who looks back on his childhood. Nothing wrong with that as a device, obviously, but things get off to an execrable start when Chastain’s character quotes from the Book of Job over a shot of a flickering flame. On investigation I have found that the image is a work of moving visual art called Opus 161 by Thomas Wilfred.
This sets the theme for the rest of the picture: pretentious, tedious and formless. Maybe a more sophisticated viewer would appreciate the genius of splicing footage of phenomena like volcanoes and tidal waves together with representations of meteorites and the dawn of time into what could have been a diverting drama about a 1950s Texan household. But maybe a more courageous studio executive would have said: “I know it sounds like an interesting idea in theory, but in practice it looks like you have made one long advert for a gay brand of aftershave.”
I suppose the idea was to give a sense of man’s place in the world, but that wasn’t at all obvious. So random were the images that it is only by taking a breezy romp through Wikipedia that I have established we were watching the evolution of the universe.
The scene unfolds at punishing length. My friend Murali and I considered walking out at this point, but were grimly fascinated by what was unfolding. Initially it simply looked as though Sir David Attenborough had got drunk and let himself lose in the editing suite – fashioning together admittedly pretty but wholly unrelated footage his team had collected down the years.
Bear in mind that this film is marketed as a sort of inoffensive coming-of-age period piece. Bear that in mind when I tell you that there are dinosaurs. They served one useful purpose only: a reminder that however talented the people behind it are, CGI is still utterly unconvincing and no match for puppetry.
And that, basically, is the film. There is no great reveal as to how the son has died. We see a bit of adolescent angst from the Sean Penn character, to which scenes I clung for dear life as I realised that we were, courageously, going to see this thing out. We had some sense of Brad Pitt’s father as a loving but flawed man. His wife just spoke drivel and cried a lot.
I repeat: it is not so bad it’s good. Jason Statham and Danny Dyer are nowhere to be seen. But I would urge anyone who is interested in writing, making or writing about films to see it. I am going to spend some time reading some of the multitudinous rave reviews that Murali assures me exist. (Inevitably a Guardian scribe enjoyed it, but I am incredulous that they raved about it at Cannes). Quite why so many people are unwilling, even from the safety of their laptop, to tell the Emperor he has no clothes is a mystery.
Hopefully that woman I wrote of will have decided to try some French cinema and seen Point Blank. That is an excellent film. If only so many characters had been gunned down in The Tree of Life.