Dozens of reasons determine why certain films are made and not others, by this person not that. French director Julie Bertuccelli came to Australia to make The Tree, a heartfelt drama about overcoming grief, in part because she was on the rebound. She was in love with the idea of adapting Italian author Italo Calvino's 1957 novel The Baron in the Trees, which is set in the 18th Century and is about a 12-year-old boy who gets so fed up with his family and noble society that he climbs up into a tree and never comes down from the tree tops again.
Even after learning that the rights to the book were not available, Bertuccelli couldn't get the story out of her mind. Knowing this, a friend gave her Our Father Who Art in the Tree, Australian author Judy Pascoe's 2002 debut novel about a 10-year-old Queensland girl – she's younger in the film – who believes her late father whispers to her when she sits high up in the branches of the tree that towers over her home.
Upon reading this book, Bertuccelli envisioned filming the story somewhere in Europe, but she and her producer Yael Fogiel subsequently found out that those rights too were unavailable.
Luckily for the French women, however, Perth-based Sue Taylor, one of the producers of the fabulous Last Train to Freo, had commissioned Elizabeth Mars to write a draft of a screenplay but hadn't attached a director. When contacted she was open to the idea of making a film with partners on the other side of the world, especially after deciding that Bertuccelli had the right sensibility for The Tree judging by her debut, Since Otar Left.
But there was heartbreak ahead: in a devastating turn of events with parallels to The Tree, Bertuccelli's husband, Christophe, with whom she had two children, became gravely ill and died in 2006.
“I think it is very interesting to see how, when there are terrible things happening around you, you don't just have to be sad but that it is possible to take that and invent something else,” Bertuccelli has said. “To create something with that sadness, to try to be an artist with it.”
That attitude is clearly seen in the film when young Simone, played by Morgana Davies, says to her friend: “You have a choice to be happy or sad, and I chose to be happy and I am happy.”
The Tree screens on SBS ONE at 9.30pm this Saturday and, subsequently, for two weeks on SBS On Demand.