Spend a few minutes enjoying what’s ‘Under the Tree’

Sigurður Sigurjónsson in Under the Tree

“Don’t throw stones at your neighbors if your own windows are glass” – Benjamin Franklin

“For what do we live, but to make sport of our neighbors and laugh at them in our turn” – Jane Austen

The titular tree in this film resides in the backyard of “Baldvin” (Sigurður Sigurjónsson) and “Inga” (Edda Björgvinsdóttir).  It creates a lot of shade in the backyard of their neighbors, “Konrad” (Þorsteinn Bachmann) and “Eyborjg” (Selma Björnsdóttir).  Since Eyborjg likes to lay out in the sun in one of her bikinis, this is a problem.  They’ve asked their neighbors to trim the tree to stop shading their yard but Inga refuses.  She feels a connection between her missing son “Uggi” and the tree.  Uggi disappeared under mysterious circumstances and unless his body is found, he cannot be declared dead.  The son of Baldvin and Inga, “Atli” (Steinþór Hróar Steinþórsson) and Baldvin are both convinced that Uggi is dead.

To stir the pot and intensify the tensions in the two homes, Atli has to move back in with his parents after his wife “Agnes” (Lára Jóhanna Jónsdóttir) tosses him out of their apartment.  She feels that what she caught him doing is an act of infidelity, although since he was alone at the time, he feels differently.  They might have been able to deal with the situation more easily had he not overreacted to Agnes trying to deny him access to their daughter.

Is Inga jealous of the younger, aging beauty living next door?  That’s a judgment you’ll have to make for yourself.  Is Inga off of her rocker?  Given what transpires after her cat disappears, that’s much easier to believe.  She believes that her neighbors stole the cat.  So she retaliates in a very disturbing way.  From there, the conflict only intensifies until things go totally off the rails in the last few minutes of the movie.

Edda Björgvinsdóttir in Under the Tree

Films where almost no one is likeable, where you have no one to root for, can be very good.  Or incredibly bad.  This is much closer to the former than the latter.  The actors all give solid turns, particularly the women.  Hafsteinn Gunnar Sigurðsson, director and co-author of the screenplay demonstrates a gift for creating female characters who are more than a match for the men in their lives.  The strength of Agnes in dealing with Atli and his increasingly unacceptable behavior is very watchable.

The fact that the film is subtitled is not a distraction at all.  You do not need to speak Icelandic to understand what’s going on.  It is more than a bit dark, so be prepared.

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