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Under the Tree (2017) Blu Ray & DVD (Eureka!)

A breakup and a neighbourly dispute

This dark Icelandic tale focuses on two parallel domestic conflicts. In the first of these, Agnes (Lára Jóhanna Jónsdóttir) catches her partner Atli (Steinþór Hróar Steinþórsson) watching a home video on his laptop of him having sex with his ex-girlfriend Rakel (Dóra Jóhannsdóttir). She decides to kick him out and refuses to even let him see their daughter Asa (Sigrídur Sigurpálsdóttir Scheving).

He moves back in with his mother Inga (Edda Björgvinsdóttir) and father Baldvin (Sigurður Sigurjónsson), who themselves are still grieving over the death of their other son. They, In turn, are in perpetual disagreement with the couple living next door: Konrad (Þorsteinn Bachmann) and his young wife Eybjorg (Selma Björnsdóttir). The latter two dislike the fact that the tree in their garden casts a shadow across their driveway. Inga, meanwhile, resents Eybjorg’s Alsatian dog relieving itself on their lawn.

As the story progresses, Atli takes increasingly desperate steps to seek Agnes’s forgiveness and spend time with Asa. However, even the inevitably intense drama surrounding their breakup threatens to be overshadowed by the escalating feud between his parents and their neighbours.

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Is Under the Tree too nasty to be comic?

Under the Tree has been advertised as a black comedy. However, although there certainly are effective elements of dark humour here, it’s not exactly a film you should go into if that’s simply all you’re after. For one thing, the situations depicted herein ultimately reach a point of such unremitting nastiness that any form of laughter is practically impossible unless you are a diagnosed psychopath. In fact, you could arguably say that it plunges into outright horror territory. For another, there are some very human aspects here vis-à-vis the processes of dealing with human loss - be they the loss of a loving relationship or the life of a family member. The people on screen here feel just like real human beings with real emotions and, as such, when they get hurt it truly leaves a mark on the viewer.

Edda Björgvinsdóttir in Under the Tree

It’s not a film that will appeal to everyone but, nonetheless, it can’t be dismissed either. There’s something truly microcosmic and revelatory about the concept of the breakdown of trust between people being borne out of the pain of this aforementioned loss. This is effectively brought across by the two most prominent performances here. There’s a certain subtle sadness in Steinþór Hróar Steinþórsson’s turn as a man who has lost everything truly important in his life over something which he really should have talked over with his partner. While his anguish and anger reach boiling point from time to time here, we get the sense that he’s an inherently decent and grounded person under most circumstances. The other standout is Edda Björgvinsdóttir, who positively drips with narrow-eyed, vengeful malice through much of the runtime. Again, however, this clearly acts as an outlet for her own inability to deal with the sheer emotional trauma following the loss of her elder son. When the latter aspect of her character comes to the surface, Björgvinsdóttir’s acting is truly on an emotional gut-punch level.

The filmmaking style here is quite low-key and no-frills for the most part, taking on a basic TV soap opera visual style. However, there are one or two notable flourishes here involving an overhead video camera POV. The climactic violence is also rather intense in its realistically messy approach.

Under the Tree is uncompromising stuff and will keep you glued to the screen, even if the experience won’t exactly make you feel good by the end.

Runtime: 88 mins

Dir: Hafsteinn Gunnar Sigurðsson

Script: Hafsteinn Gunnar Sigurðsson, Huldar Breiðfjörð

Starring: Steinþór Hróar Steinþórsson, Edda Björgvinsdóttir, Sigurður Sigurjónsson, Þorsteinn Bachmann, Selma Björnsdóttir, Lára Jóhanna Jónsdóttir, Dóra Jóhannsdóttir, Sigrídur Sigurpálsdóttir Scheving

Blu Ray Audio-Visual

Since the film’s visuals and soundtrack are rather muted in style, this isn’t a disc to show off by any means. However, while the images are a little on the soft side, it’s fine for what it is.

Extras

Making Under the Tree

This extremely well put together featurette includes behind-the-scenes footage, interviews with actors Steinþór Hróar Steinþórsson and Edda Björgvinsdóttir and director Hafsteinn Gunnar Sigurðsson, visits to the various filming locations, footage from the Venice Film Festival and a brief glimpse of some storyboards. Hafsteinn reveals that the titular tree was a sycamore, which was introduced from Canada to Iceland in the early 20th century. He pays a visit to one in his neighbourhood which he would have loved to be in the film. However, he couldn’t get agreement from the owners to uproot it and relocate it to the shooting location. In the end, he managed to obtain another sycamore from a homeowner who had to cut it down because they were extending their house. He also mentions that the comedy elements were introduced into the film in order to avoid it depending into melodrama.

Overall:

Under the Tree is funny, nasty, incisive and tragic. However, it definitely a film which you will need to steel yourself up for. While there’s only one extra here, its quality makes up for the lack of quantity.

Movie: ☆☆☆☆

Video: ☆☆☆

Audio: ☆☆☆

Extras: ☆☆☆1/2

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