Femi is a shy boy living happily with his adoptive mother in the country. When his birth mother insists on taking him back to London, he finds it difficult to acclimatize to his new parent, school and friends. As we follow him, we see the ways in which Femi is let down and the depth of his anguish.
The Story resembles Moonlight, catching up with Femi at three stages of his life. Similarly, we see Femi as a shy boy who’s mistreatment leads him to become an angry young man who is at risk of falling in with the wrong crowd. This is a very British story though, highlighting important class differences and the worrying potential for wayward youths to be manipulated by gangs.
The racial politics of the film are a little troubling. The child is removed from his middle-class white home in the country and into a black working-class urban environment. Immediately he is beaten by his mother, neglected and bullied, ultimately taking up a life of petty crime and joining a violent gang. Is this a serious comment about Nigerian parenting culture or merely the adoption of a stereotype. I am unqualified to say, but occasionally it felt a little simplified.
However, in its third act, we follow Femi back to his mother’s home in Nigeria and find out that his abusive mother had been isolated from her community and denied any support by his father. Femi achieves an understanding of his mother and the grander circumstances of his life and suffering. This is a story about Femi coming to terms with injustice and learning not to compromise on who he really is.
It’s also much more about the urban versus the suburban. The title suggests that the real problem with Femi’s life is his disconnect from nature, the calming element in his life. His childhood is portrayed with a naturalistic euphoria. Soft focus haze blends time into a gentle collage of calming moments. Once Femi moves to London his life is about harsh edges and sharp contrast. The intimidating and overpowering towers of the city loom over the small boy.
The two actors who play Femi create a palpable sense of character. Tai Golding gives the impression of tremendous depths of sorrow. From his first scene, he is clearly carrying a troublesome weight that prevents him from feeling truly safe. Sam Adewunmi as the older Femi has powerful anger, but still that deep sorrow in his eyes. He’s a young man grown accustomed to betrayal.
The Last Tree is a beautiful story about growing up and being lost.