While the crossroads of identity and ancestry can make for rich material to explore in a biopic, designating oneself as the filmmaker in a movie about yourself may not be the best idea. Hava Volterra’s The Tree Of Life has moments of uncommon creativity and poignancy, but often comes dangerously close to crossing the line between familial self-examination and home movies.
Volterra is a career woman transplanted from Israel to California, with ancestral roots in Italy dating back to the Middle Ages. An electrical engineer by trade with a digital imaging background, Volterra combines delightfully whimsical animation with puppetry and assorted talking heads experts, family colleagues and relatives alike, to shape quite a wealth of often fascinating details into a short amount of running time.
The best moments of The Tree of Life are revelations about her family interacting with key historical moments through the centuries. In particular the history of Jews as they contended with the roles of outsiders and victims in Europe, no matter how esteemed their stature in Italian society.
Less engaging are far too self-indulgent and extended interludes when Volterra reminisces with scholars and relatives across three continents about more contemporary family members, conversations which may be a great deal more fascinating to the filmmaker herself, than eavesdropping audiences. And while there’s an affectionate focus on a forbear who earned a reputation as an Italian mystic centuries ago, her own late father’s embrace of communism is barely touched upon, as if a personal embarrassment. How and why he embraced communism, his ensuing related persecution and how it informed his life and his path to Zionism and relocation to Israel, would have been an intriguing subject to explore further.
Interim CEO Films
2 1/2 stars