The Tree (A Árvore) (André Gil Mata, 2018)


In Brief

Now that the alt-right movement is on the rise yet again, one realises that it’s not that history repeats itself, it’s that history has never changed.

Past and present meet in André Gil Mata’s avant-garde film The Tree where, beyond an evident age difference between the old man and his younger self, everything else in this world is still pretty much the same: the ruined landscapes, the social injustices, the poor living conditions, the never-ending armed conflicts. Mata smartly confuses the audience by leaving unclear where the movie takes place: World War II, the Balkan Wars or both at the same time. But even if The Tree delivers an emotional punch, its clever conclusion might not make up for its risky but also excruciating beginning.

The Tree is an endurance test both for viewers and characters. This Portuguese production set in Bosnia is mainly a mood piece where the cold of winter and the distant gunshots are as significant as the people who inhabit this godforsaken lands. Fans of Ben Rivers or Ben Russell—or any other Ben—will enjoy Mata’s second feature, but people looking for a narrative movie will get frustrated straight away after watching an old man carrying several demijohns on his back during the first 50 minutes. Just like other examples of slow cinema, such as Akerman’s Jeanne Dielman or Louis Malle’s Humain Trop Humain, if this man’s journey provokes you tedium and annoyance, then you only just need to imagine how it feels for the man who’s actually doing all the labour.