Dirs: Michelle Kim, Rob Leickner| Canadian Feature Presentation | Canada | 2015 | 89 min
Nov 6 5:00 pm | International Village
Gastown. False Creek. Stanley Park. New West Public Market. In her directorial debut, The Tree Inside, born-and-raised Vancouverite Michelle Kim (also writer and lead actress) takes us on a delicious cinematic adventure that celebrates all the highlights of West Coast life.
Allow me to backtrack a little. The Tree Inside is a romantic drama about a Vancouver-based children’s author who struggles to find love that lasts. As her brother puts it, “I can’t take you seriously because every time you have a boyfriend, the relationship ends before I get to meet him.”
For Myra L’Etoile (Michelle Kim), what begins as a normal afternoon walk in the park goes on a whole new trajectory when a handsome man (bearing an uncanny resemblance to PM Trudeau) suddenly grabs her hand and urges her to keep walking. Her impromptu companion is David Hawthorne (Casey Manderson), a teacher who asks to pose as her boyfriend in order to escape from some overly inquisitive female students. The two begin to chat in earnest, and before Myra know it, she really is the girlfriend of this incredibly sensitive, witty and smexy man. Everything about their relationship — down to the magnificent profusion of Sakura blossoms under which they share their first kiss — is picture perfect. Everything, except for the fact that his ex of nine years is always lurking in the background… Even as the couple grows more intimate, Myra cannot help but question: Is Selene truly a deranged stalker girlfriend or is David the one who still has strings attached?
At first glance, The Tree Inside seems yet another title in an already very long lineup of unknown Canadian films. Yet, rarely does a film bring to light more realistically the life of a city. For the viewer, trying to identify the city’s different locales almost becomes a game, but co-directors Kim and Leickner are not content to limit themselves to geographical allusions. Through the eyes of Myra and David, we are taken on a synesthetic experience of all that is quintessentially West Coast: locally sourced gourmet dinners, walks through old-growth cedar forests, sunsets on Vancouver’s notoriously rocky beaches, the list goes on. They even manage to slip in a quick three-minute piece of performance art by award-winning dancer Barbara Bourget). The soundtrack too is decidedly alternative, a diverse mix of Canadian, Belgian and Icelandic music that gives a new spin to familiar scenes.
Perhaps what made Kim’s film most convincingly Vancouverite was that she managed to pick up on a Rain City element that is oft overlooked in films: hapa-ness. Like her creator, Myra L’aEtoile is half Korean, half Canadian. Yet, the beauty of the film lies in the naturalness and ease with which it incorporates a subtle discourse on mixed-race heritage. In the film, Myra L’Etoile is comfortable sharing about her mixed background, but at no point in the story does she feel the need to champion her cause or broadcast it to the world. Neither, however, is she inattentive to her cultural heritage. As her best friend, Jennifer Rhoo (Diana Bang, The Interview, 2014) reflects, “No one in our generation knows how to make kimchi anymore — we should learn to make it!”
The Tree Inside offers us an authentic glimpse into the life of a Vancouverite and her city.