Under the Tree (Undir trénu, Iceland-Poland-Denmark-Germany-France, 2017)

Neighbourly attentions

Director Hafsteinn Gunnar Sigurðsson co-wrote the script with Huldar Breiðfjörð which sets up an interesting ‘neighbours at war’ situation: the tree of the title is the catalyst. There is a secondary narrative featuring marital breakdown but this is not successfully integrated with the central theme. The link between the two is the embittered mother, Inga (Edda Björgvinsdóttir), who’s aching for a fight with her neighbours. She is the mother of the cyber-philandering Atli (Steinþór Hróar Steinþórsson) whose wife kicks him out; the cyber-philandering is Atli masturbating watching a video of himself having sex with an ex; that’s an excellent metaphor for a failing marriage.

Inga is traumatised by a missing, presumably by suicide, son and apparent envy of the fortysomething attractive woman, Eybjorg (Selma Björnsdóttir), who their neighbour, Konrad (Þorsteinn Bachmann), has taken up with. Monika Lenczewska’s cinematography beautifully captures the pallid Icelandic light that Eybjorg tries to sunbathe in; the shading tree is clearly a problem. While the stupid, but easily done, escalation of the dispute is well portrayed, Atli’s necessary return home, and his attempts to get access to his daughter, don’t sit comfortably in the scenario; his is merely an additional problem. Roy points out that both narratives dramatise a breakdown in relationships but marriage and neighbourliness, to me, are very different. This could be my lack of contextual knowledge as the film is intended to be a satire on dysfunctional Icelandic society; in The Guardian review Sigurðsson is quoted as saying: ‘his inspiration for Under the Tree was Iceland’s high rate of “neighbour rage”’.

Certainly in the finale of the film we enter disturbing territory as the blackly comic nature of ordinary people getting angry and standing their ground reaches an a conclusion that belongs in the horror genre. However, the scene, set in a well-tooled garage, seems to come from another film and would have been more effective if I had been convinced that the narrative was satirising the bourgeois mores that emphasise property rights over communal living. Actually, it’s just occurred to me that as Atli and his wife live in communal housing, they have house meetings to discuss various issues, that that is exactly what the film was doing. The latter is shown not to be any better as a meeting degenerates into gripes about loud sex and corruption. So I was being ‘dim’ apparently.

The film is, by the way, worth seeing.

 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: