A desperately ill lawyer travels to Sicily seeking a cure from a miraculously healing tree in Ante Novakovic‘s religious-themed drama, which was showcased recently at NYC’s Soho International Film Festival. Uneasily blending inspirational elements with a Da Vinci Code-style conspiracy involving an ancient order of Catholic priests, Leaves of the Tree is ultimately too disjointed and diffuse to have the desired impact.
The ubiquitous Eric Roberts plays Patrick, a pharmaceutical-company-patent lawyer who suffers from congestive heart failure due to an unnamed illness. So he’s naturally eager to travel to Italy when the company receives information about a Sicilian olive tree that, as illustrated by a prologue set in the early 19th century, has been producing miracles for hundreds, if not thousands, of years.
Accompanying him on the journey are his wife, Sweetness (Sean Young); their daughter, Danielle (Sarah Sebastiana); his best friend, Joe (Armand Assante); and company executive Roberta (Marisa Brown). Once there, they meet the mysterious Dr. Ferramonti (Federico Castelluccio, best known as Furio in The Sopranos), who we eventually learn has long benefited from the tree’s miraculous powers.
Complicating their mission is the presence of Don Diego (Ozman Sirgood), who’s arrived in the remote Sicilian village with a cadre of fellow priests supposedly in search of the ruins of an ancient church. It soon becomes clear that what they’re really after is their goal of preventing the tree from falling into outside hands. That Diego has the deep pockets of the Vatican at his disposal is made evident when he doesn’t blink at Roberta’s tossed-off demand for $100 million in exchange for the company giving up its pursuit of the tree’s healing salve.
And the tree certainly seems worth the price, as it apparently has the power to cure everything from hangovers to infertility to Patrick’s illness — the latter demonstrated by his quickly recovering from a near-fatal attack after having the salve rubbed on his chest while sitting in a hot spring. Both Sweetness and Roberta even enthusiastically testify that their “hair and skin have never looked better.”
Padding its storyline with a depiction of the blossoming romance between Roberta and the handsome former-seminarian Hank (Kresh Novakovic, the director’s brother and one of the film’s producers), Leaves of the Tree never quite manages to be engrossing. With Roberts on the sidelines for long stretches, the screenplay by director Novakovic and David Healey concentrates largely on the supporting players, with only Castelluccio’s doctor — who turns out to be far older than he appears — sustaining our interest.
Shot on location, the film features enough gorgeous images of its Sicilian environs to fuel a tourism boom. But those looking for miracle cures, not to mention compelling drama, are likely to be left sorely disappointed.
Production: Gogi Productions
Cast: Eric Roberts, Sean Young, Federico Castelluccio, Kresh Novakovic, Marisa Brown, Armand Assante, Sarah Sebastiana
Director: Ante Novakovic
Screenwriters: Ante Novakovic, David Healey
Producers: Joanna Lu, Donna McKenna, Perla Montemayor, Ante Novakovic, Kresh Novakovic
Executive producers: David Healey, Rebecca Healey, Marc Jacobson
Director of photography: John Schmidt
Production designers: Michelle Howe, Nicola Sferruzza
Editor: Ulysses Guidotti
Costume designers: Samuela Cirrone, Jennifer Schreck
Composer: Randy Edelman
Casting: Donna McKenna
Rated PG, 96 min.