Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Kidman, Gainsbourg Deal With Losses in "Rabbit Hole" & "The Tree"

People have different ways of dealing with grief. Some will take days to overcome it, others take years! In cinematic language, grief makes movies that are difficult to watch. But in the last 12 months, we are lucky to have been served on our cinematic plates two outstanding films that deal with bereavement.

In Julie Bertucelli's Australian drama, "The Tree", a wife with 4 children find themselves mourning the sudden death of a loving husband and devoted father who, one fateful day, comes home from a long-distance driving assignment. But instead of a blissful homecoming, he grabs his chest in explicit pain and hits the gigantic tree with the truck he is driving. He was never able to say goodbye. His wife, Dawn (Brit-French star Charlotte Gainsbourg) is inconsolable. Eight months later, Dawn is able to find a job taking calls at a plumbing shop managed by George (Marton Csokas). Though she's never had to work before ("my husband provided enough for the both of us"), Dawn finds solace and affection in the company of his "boss". Meanwhile, the children back home are gradually picking up the pieces in the once convivial household.

But 8 year old Simone (Morgana Davies) seems to believe that her father speaks from the sounds of the tree that looms over their crumbling house like a protective hand. Before long, even Dawn is starting to believe in it. What becomes of Dawn's budding relationship with the mild mannered plumber? A summer Christmas holiday and a devastating tropical storm would somehow dictate the change of events in the O'Neil household.

I've never seen an environmental thriller such as this one since Kiyoshi Kurosawa's "Charisma" (1999, Japan) thus we were glued on our seat waiting for some fantastical moments to unravel. Unfortunately, none such thing occurred, leaving us a bit dissatisfied. Maybe the novel, "Our Father Who Art in the Tree" provided a better resolution? Despite its inadequacies, "The Tree" is a compelling movie to watch. You couldn't take your eyes off Gainsbourg (who's French British) and Csokas (who's Hungarian Kiwi - huh?), but what occasionally bothered us was the way the character of 8-year-old Simone was written. You don't condone bratty behaviors such as Simone's, otherwise, she'd grow up believing in no one, but herself. Corporal punishment? You bet!

Charlotte Gainsbourg appeared in Lars von Trier's beguiling "Anti-Christ".

Some of the most soul-stirring stories come from theatrical plays, like David Lindsay-Abaire's "Rabbit Hole".

When their young boy Danny is killed in a car accident, the lives of Becca (Nicole Kidman) and Howie (Aaron Eckhart) undergo unfathomable changes. Becca turns into a joyless cold home maker who discredits all forms of help handed down by friends and family. She gets rid of every possible reminder of Danny. Howie, on the other hand, is disconcerted with the new mechanics of his relationship with Becca who shuns their support groups as well as his matrimonial sexual advances. Their lives are in stasis. Meanwhile, Becca finds comfort in the strange company of Jason (Miles Teller), the teenager who accidentally run over her son Danny (who was chasing after their runaway dog).

Great ensemble performances from Kidman and Eckhart, to the divine Dianne Weist who deserves a supporting actress nomination. With a very tentative ending, it would have you thinking hours after the credits have rolled. Director John Cameron Mitchell, who's known for his risky film "Shortbus" and the limpwrist musical "Hedwig and the Angry Inch", adds this soul-stirring ouvre to his short, but impressive resume.

Nicole Kidman (above and below) looking like a goddess.

Aaron Eckhart

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