Iceland’s 90th Oscars entry, Under the Tree (Undir Trénu), manages to reach heights of absurdity but should also come with a serious disclaimer.
One of the major problems with Under the Tree isn’t too much going on but what happens as the fighting escalates. There are two stories being told here. The first is the marriage trouble between Atli (Steinþór Hróar Steinþórsson) and Agnes (Lára Jóhanna Jónsdóttir) after she catches him jerking off to a sex tape he made. The second is the feud that starts when Konrad (Þorsteinn Bachmann) and Eybjorg (Selma Björnsdóttir) complain to their neighbors, Inga (Edda Björgvinsdóttir) and Baldvin (Sigurður Sigurjónsson), about the tree in the front yard.
The marital problems with Atli and Agnes turn public very quickly. What appears to be a condo association meeting turns quickly into couples therapy. Atli takes their four-year-old daughter, Asa (Sigrídur Sigurpálsdóttir Scheving), out of school without his wife’s permission. I can’t attest to what marital troubles do to a child but that kid will need therapy.
Let’s forget about the marital troubles for a moment. The feud over the tree has the potential for so much comedy. It’s fun for a little while before the two get downright hostile against each other. These two couples have every right to fight against each other all they want just please leave the animals out of it. I don’t say this as a spoiler but rather as a warning. Some of these scenes are not for the faint of heart. If this action isn’t inhumane, I don’t know what is!
If there’s a single genre that defines Under the Tree, it has to be a black comedy. While the trailer makes it look like a simple comedy with some family drama, it’s far from that. This is a feud that gets so violent that the film delves into thriller and suspense territory. The music and cinematography help to play up this aspect. You never know what’s going to happen next. That’s the beauty of Hafsteinn Gunnar Sigurðsson’s direction.
Amid the hostility, there is some visual imagery to be praised. A shot of the tree with the sun behind it while the choir is singing in the background. The way that Sigurðsson and cinematographer Monika Lenczewska frame and shoot the image is beautiful.
Because there’s a lot going on in Under the Tree, it can be a lot to take in and digest. If an English-language remake is made, one can only hope that the taxidermy aspect is removed.
DIRECTOR: Hafsteinn Gunnar Sigurðsson
SCREENWRITERS: Hafsteinn Gunnar Sigurðsson and Huldar Breiðfjörð
CAST: Steinþór Hróar Steinþórsson, Edda Björgvinsdóttir, Sigurður Sigurjónsson, Lára Jóhanna Jónsdóttir, Þorsteinn Bachmann, Selma Björnsdóttir
Following the world premiere at the 2017 Venice International Film Festival, Magnolia Pictures will release the film in select theaters starting July 6, 2018.