Under the Tree (2017)
Director: Hafsteinn Gunnar Sigurðsson
Cast: Steinþór Hróar Steinþórsson, Edda Björgvinsdóttir
Running time: 89 minutes
Format: Dual format
Language: Icelandic with optional English subtitles
Release Date: 14th January 2019
Jamie Havlin reviews a bleak as hell suburban satire from Iceland.
Hafsteinn Gunnar Sigurðsson’s third film begins with Atli (Steinþór Hróar Steinþórsson) deciding to have a look at some porn while his partner Agnes sleeps. This isn’t your average porn video, though. This is a sex tape he made years before with his ex, Rakel.
Agnes wakes and discovers him masturbating as he watches. He’s thrown out of his house, and forced to move back into his parents’ suburban home, hoping for a quick reconciliation. This doesn’t materialise. Instead, the dispute intensifies with both sides behaving irrationally at times. Increasingly frustrated, Atli snatches their four-year-old daughter, Asa from her kindergarten class, an impulse decision that doesn’t improve his attempts to gain joint custody of the child.
This isn’t the only dispute here.
Konrad and Eybjorg, the couple who live next door to Atli’s parents, complain about the massive sycamore tree that casts a shadow over their own backyard patio. Eybjorg, in particular, is keen to make the most of the sun during Iceland’s short summers.
Baldvin, Atli’s father, is sympathetic to the request that they trim its overhanging branches but his wife Inga (Edda Björgvinsdóttir) is less receptive. ‘Over my dead body.’
A feud quickly escalates.
Inga quickly emerges as a spectacularly bitter woman, frostier than a wintry night in Reykjavik. She is always in the right, and anybody who opposes her will be dismissed mercilessly. Compromise is never an option in her world.
This may be at least partly due to the disappearance of her son, Uggi. The rest of the family believe he has killed himself, but she clings desperately to the hope that he will return one day.
When her cat goes missing – inevitably bringing up more painful memories of Uggi for her – Inga blames ‘Cycling bitch’ Eybjorg (Selma Björnsdóttir) and plans to take some truly malevolent retribution that will spiral the vendetta out of control and lead to a tragic ending.
‘Has everyone lost their minds?’ Baldvin asks at one point. The answer to that question would have to be a big yes.
A huge success in its homeland, Under the Tree was selected as Iceland’s entry for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 90th Oscars, although it failed to earn a nomination. Bleakly funny one minute, devastatingly sad the next, Under the Tree is an unpredictable and engrossing watch and Edda Björgvinsdóttir, best known as a comedy actor in Iceland, is outstanding as the callous Inga.
Extras include the trailer and Making Under The Tree [23 mins] – a behind-the-scenes look at the making of the film.
Montage Pictures presents Under The Tree in its UK debut on Blu-ray and DVD.
For more on the film: https://www.eurekavideo.co.uk/montage/under-tree-undir-tr%C3%A9nu
All words by Jamie Havlin. More writing by Jamie can be found at his Louder Than War author’s archive.