Under the Tree is made up of fine stories that have a difficult time coming together under the direction of Icelandic filmmaker Hafsteinn Gunnar Sigurðsson.
The film is pitched as a black comedy, yet it teeters on being a straight-up drama. This perception, I suppose, could be subjective. Iceland’s Edda Awards awarded the film on its performances, its screenplay, and Sigurðsson’s direction, so obviously the film works for some audiences. But personally, I was more intrigued by how these individual parts worked on their own rather than how they reacted with each other.
A potential divorce unfolds as Atli (Sigurður Sigurjónsson) is caught in a lewd act by his wife. Movie goers are thrown into their dynamic with sparse context, but drawing an opinion about these lovers is what drives this conflict. Thrown out of his house, Atli crashes at his parents’ house, where his folks are having a dispute with their neighbours. The younger couple next door (Konrad and Eybjorg) can’t stand the looming tree in the next yard, but Atli’s parents (Baldvin and Inga) refuse to cut it down. Inga (Edda Björgvinsdóttir) is callous when defending herself, although she usually keeps to herself as she mourns the loss of Atli’s brother. Personal struggles are kept behind closed doors (including Konrad and Eybjorg’s strenuous attempts to start a family) as tit-for-tat jabs build towards a messy finale.
The script packs in a lot of characterization and backstories, but Hafsteinn Gunnar Sigurðsson paces it nicely – the audience never feels bogged down with information. However, as the neighbourly mind games continue, Under the Tree loses its emotional impact as it goes for warped situational humour and absurd confrontations.
Under the Tree earns marginal kudos for its ambition, but I really wish the film had stayed grounded from start to finish.
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Addison Wylie: @AddisonWylie