Heart of an Oak (2022) (Le Chêne)

The Heart of an Oak, directed by Laurent Charbonnier and Michel Seydoux, edited by Sylvie Lager, is a year of magnificent photography in the life of the creatures – animals, birds and insects – that live in or around a huge 200-year-old oak tree in a forest in France.

The Inhabitants of the Faraway Tree

by Alexa Dalby

Heart of an Oak

CAUTION: Here be spoilers

The Heart of An Oak is wonderful close-up film of wild creatures going about their daily business as the seasons change from spring through the gamut of autumn leaves and snowy winter to next year’s spring.

Visually, it wouldn’t shame David Attenborough or Chris Packham. It is beautifully filmed and surreptitiously instructive. But though it has no dialogue (the trailer has some) there’s a tendency to anthropomorphise the creatures through painstaking editing of their behaviour (conflating various times) to create a narrative, time-lapse photography and the occasional use of mood music ranging eclectically from Dean Martin singing Sway to Lesley Garrett’s rendition of Handel (selected by Séverine Abhervé, Brendon Bourgade and Stéphane Reichart).

The Heart of an Oak is ‘slow film’ in the vein of ‘slow media’, though there’s some drama injected in the Star Wars-like pursuit of the little birds whose life we have been following by the fast-flying raptor, hunting them with the grace of a guided missile.

The red squirrel turns out to be the star of the show, though all the creatures get a personalised credit at the end.

You can’t help wondering whether this old oak, and its untouched forest, would still exist in England today.

The Heart of an Oak premiered at the Berlinale, is previewed on the Icon Film Channel on 10 June 2024 and is released in cinemas on 12 July 2024 in the UK.

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