Jazz, film, and improvised culture.
Death of a Tree: Temptation Tidies Up the House
depth of your religious conviction is a lot like your sex life. If it works for
you, that’s swell, but the rest of us really don’t want to hear about it.
Bizarrely, both aspects of a converted Catholic widower’s life will be explored
in glorious detail in John Martoccia’s Death
of a Tree (trailer
which opens today in New York.
all fairness, religion is an important part of everyday people’s lives that
remains criminally underdeveloped in mainstream commercial filmmaking.
Martoccia set out rectify cinema’s religion deficit, from a readily admitted
Catholic perspective in Tree and his
relatively well received debut Vito
Bonafacci. That is a fine mission to take on, but right from the start, it
is hard to figure just who Tree’s
intended audience might be.
is a tough talking, tattooed artist, who converted to Catholicism after his
wife’s death, with all the zeal the saying implies. You will know his house,
because it is the one with the big Virgin Mary statue on the front porch. James
is already a mainstay at the local Planned Parenthood protests and serves as an
unofficial lay counselor to his fellow parishioners, so he is seriously
considering the priesthood as his next logical step. Then he hires Erica to
tidy up around the house.
they once knew each other from way back when, but that backstory is never
clearly explained. In any event, a lot of water has passed under the bridge
since then. Erica is a little surprised how devout James is, but she is
strangely impressed when he lets her know what a harlot she is for shacking up
with her boyfriend. She naturally finds herself attracted to James as a result
and thereby sets out to seduce him. Alarmed by his stirrings of passion, James
confesses regularly, but he just cannot get her out of his system.
is hard to say which are more awkward, the melodramatic May-Decemberish
relationship or the many scenes of James protesting outside Planned Parenthood.
Frankly, it would probably be healthy for the culture if a film seriously
depicted the values and commitment of Pro-Life activists. However, part of that
portrait should involve their struggles as to how they should best calibrate their
message. When James quietly preys while a thug screams and spits in his face,
it is a powerful image. Yet, most of the time, the protestors have their volume
cranked up to eleven. Even if you are somewhat sympathetic, they look and sound
pretty shrill, but somehow that seems to reach hearts and minds in the film.
the other hand, the central relationship is just problematic through and
through. As James and Erica, Ronnie Marmo and Gracie Tyrrell never develop any
believable chemistry. By the time matters really get out of hand, viewers will
be hoping Erica will pull off her face to reveal a succubus sent to tempt
James, but nothing cool like that is going to happen in this film.
probably says everything Martoccia wants it to,
but he completely loses sight of how it might be received by third parties,
including those who might benefit from the Church’s teachings. That means it
doesn’t work, regardless of what his intentions might be. We feel bad saying
it, but Death of a Tree cannot be recommended
as cinema or an apologia when it opens today (4/3) in New York, at the Quad
Labels: Religion in film