Direction: Julio Medem
Layered like a zigzagging soap opera and mounted with a pretentious artificiality, The Tree of Blood leads us to unexciting places. The story focuses on two lovers, Marc (Álvaro Cervantes) and Rebeca (Úrsula Corberó), who return to their hometown in the Basque Country, Spain, with the purpose of unveiling and writing the complex stories of their families. The generational secrets emerge slowly, giving them the pleasure of discovery and imagination. After a while, they realize that two brothers strangely tie their family trees.
Marc’s mother, Nuria (Lucía Delgado), married Olmo (Joaquín Furriel), a secretive man with connections to the Russian mafia. In turn, Rebeca discloses that Olmo’s brother, Victor (Daniel Grao), was the man who raised her after her mother has been admitted in a hospice for mental illness treatment. Unexpectedly, all the amusement of the young couple radically changes when their personal secrets start to be revealed.
San Sebastian-born director Julio Medem mixes a tiny bit of Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s surrealism, the tension of Alejandro Amenabar’s crime thrillers, and the eroticism that his own previous films had already shown, cases of Sex and Lucia (2001) and Room in Rome (2010). However, everything is sloppily glued-up, and the film becomes an abominable part-erotic, part-psychological pastiche.
Extra care was given to the cinematography, wonderfully controlled by Kiko de la Rica (the black-and-white of Blancanieves remains his best pictorial achievement), who rejoins the director after the disastrous Ma Ma (2015). The images of The Tree of Blood exhibit that sophisticated gloss worthy of a classy art-house film. However, under the surface, lies an empty soul. As opposed to transgressive and original, the film got stuck in stereotypes, becoming narratively ineffectual and dramatically unenjoyable. The nature of the script demanded focus as well as a taut, responsive execution, something that Medem was unable to enforce.