'The Tree': Cairo Review

The Tree Still - H 2014

The Tree Still - H 2014

Unconventional storytelling only heightens the dramatic effect of this elemental drama

A Slovenian family finds itself threatened by outside forces in Sonja Prosenc's debut feature

Slovenian filmmaker Sonja Prosenc tells a stark, elemental story in startlingly unconventional fashion in her film recently showcased at the Cairo International Film Festival. Concerning a family consisting of widowed mother Milena (Katarina Stegnar), teenage son Alek (Jernej Kogovsek) and his nine-year-old brother Veli (Lakas Matija Rosas Ursic) who are confined to their barren home for reasons that at first go unexplained, The Tree is an intriguing effort that marks an auspicious feature debut.

Related in non-linear fashion via three separate "chapters," the tale has an almost biblical quality. The specter of death hangs uneasily throughout the proceedings, signaled by an opening scene in which young Veli comes upon a dead bird and carefully buries it.

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The familial bond among the three characters is clearly strong, evidenced by such tender moments as when Veli crawls into his mother's bed and tells her a bedtime story and Alek's happily giving his young brother a piggyback ride. During an outing into town, we're introduced to the teenage Liri (Sasa Pavlin Stosic), with whom Alek is clearly enamored.

Alek's best friend is Dritan (Suad Fazli), Lira's older brother, with whom he climbs into a tree to discuss the relationship that's threatened by the family's plan to move away. A tragic incident ensues, with Alek and his mother and brother soon assailed by Dritan's relatives seeking violent revenge.

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The filmmaker expertly creates an atmosphere of dread, using visual elements--a large wall surrounding the house's concrete yard that gives it the air of a prison; the bleak, blue/grey-infused cinematography by Mitja Licen—and Janez Dovc's ominous musical  score to disturbing effect.

Slow-paced and narratively uncompromising, the film occasionally feels almost too minimalistic for its own good. But its gradual ratcheting up of tension is ultimately more powerful than if its story had been told in more traditional fashion. An award-winner at several Eastern European film festivals, The Tree may be too challenging even for the arthouse crowd, but it marks the arrival of a distinctively talented young filmmaker.

Production: Mono Film Production House, Slovenian Film Centre
Cast: Katarina Stegnar, Jernej Kogovsek, Lukas Matija Rosas Rusic, Sasa Pavlin Stosic, Suad Fazlie, Osmani Valdet
Director: Sonja Prosenc
Screenwriters: Sonja Prosnec, Mitja Licen
Producers: Rok Secen, Sandra Rzen, Sonja Prosenc
Director of photography: Mitja Licen
Production designer: Vasja Kokelj
Editor: Milos Kalusek
Costume designer: Emil Cerar
Composer: Janez Dovc

No rating, 90 min.