Hafstein Gunnar Sigurosson (director)
Montage Pictures (studio)
14 January 2019 (released)
15 January 2019
If this movie is anything to go by, then Iceland makes for one of the least attractive holiday destinations, let alone a place to reside. In turns darkly comic and disturbing, UNDER THE TREE begins as a satirical ‘kitchen sink’ drama that quickly spirals out of control, delving into the darkest realms of the human psyche.
The film begins with Agnes (Lara Johanna Jonsdottir) catching hubby Atli (Steinpor Steinporsson) watching an explicit home movie on his computer. Trouble is that the lady in the home movie is not Agnes… and Atli finds himself on the streets before he can say “Sorry”. To further humiliate him, the understandably upset Agnes also forbids him to see their daughter Asa, with Atli soon gate-crashing the local Kindergarten and simply taking his daughter on an outing. Naturally this has consequences, with Agnes now informing the authorities who soon hamper Atli’s efforts to see the child. With his marriage in tatters and nowhere to live (he doesn’t appear to have a job), Atli temporarily moves back to his parent’s house and shares domestic live with mother Inga (Edda Björgvinsdottir) and father Baldvin (Sigurour Sigurjonnson). However, his troubles are only just beginning when it emerges that his parents are in a bitter dispute with their younger neighbours Eybjorg (Selma Björnsdottir) and Konrad (Porsteinn Bachmann): apparently Inga and Baldvin’s large tree casts an irritating shadow over Eybjorg and Konrad’s patio. To make things worse, Eyborg stands accused by Inga that her shepherd dog consistently fouls their garden, something that Eyborg denies. Despite each of the neighbours refusing to give in and Baldvin making it clear that he will not cut the tree, the men initially have a slightly more civilised approach when it comes to solving the dispute. Same cannot be said about the two women, especially the emotionally fragile Inga, who lost her older son to suicide some years ago, looks upon her beloved cat as some sort of replacement… but when the cat goes missing Inga is quick to accuse Eyborg.
With all this palaver going on, Atli still tries to re-unite again with Agnes though is only successful in being humiliated further. Meanwhile back home in his parent’s house, things reach boiling point when Inga now believes her beloved cat has been deliberately been ‘removed’ by Eyborg… and takes drastic consequences which sees Eyborg’s shepherd dog also go missing… only to be found some time later on the couples doorstep… but in what state! This is the cue for all hell breaking loose and rest assured, some individuals are about to lose their life.
The humour here is deliberately dry and deadpan which works perfectly well, though the overall pace could be faster. None of the characters are particularly likeable and the landscape and buildings are barren, further emphasising the emotional frustrations everyone is subjected to.