BY SARA DARLING
A family drama with added darkness, Under the Tree is a real-time, black comedy, opening with no-frills Ikea-range, run of the mill situation. But as the plot thickens, so does the hysteria. Written and directed by Hafsteinn Gunnar, the movie gives an Icelandic interpretation of a Nordic family farce!
When normcore Atli (Steinþór Hróar Steinþórsson) is caught masturbating over an ex, his wife Agnes (the stunning Lára Jóhanna Jónsdóttir), chucks him out and refuses to acknowledge him or give him access to their daughter, which sets the scene of un-harmonious relationships from the off.
Hence, Atli has to move back in with his parents (played by Sigurður Sigurjónsson and Edda Björgvinsdóttir) who live in an identikit bungalow in sleepy Reykjavik suburbia; But this won’t be as peaceful as it sounds, as the parents have just begun to defend themselves in a petty dispute over their much-loved, and very bushy tree, which is casting a shadow on next door’s yard.
Whilst Atli fights for the right to see his daughter, the row with the neighbours intensifies and his mother (Inga), is still coming to terms with the disappearance (apparent suicide) of his brother; Meanwhile his suppressed and long suffering father (Baldvin) is left to deal with her eccentric moods swings and binge drinking, as well as her bitchy comments about her younger prettier neighbour.
The other vital characters in this peep show, are professional couple Konrad (Þorsteinn Bachmann) and Eybjorg (Selma Björnsdóttir) who appear to be much more harmonious; Konrad, an old friend of the couple, is a successful businessman, who has recently married the young, glamourous, Eyborg, who likes to sunbathe, cycle, and is obsessed with her dog. He clearly dotes on her, and seems to do everything she says.
Cracks appear over the fence when Eybjorg sends her husband round to complain about the shade of the tree when she is trying to sunbathe; The retort is dismissive to say the least, and sets the scene for further potty mouthed, catatonic commentary from Inga.
This battle of wills escalates at a rapid speed as the initial polite niggles, verbalised by do-gooder Konrad, stretch Agnes’s patience and morality, as she retorts with psychotic and sometimes hilarious consequences.
Grown up tit for tat ensues, with slashed tyres, stray garden gnomes, a missing pet cat and an embalmed dog, which indicate both parties mean business. Although you don’t actually get to see any of these mis endeavours, everything is presumed, and acted upon accordingly!!!
More sinister than funny, you end up swallowing in disbelief at the ridiculousness of what you're seeing, and there is plenty of time to wonder how much further the warring couples will go. At the same time, Atli and Agnes are still fighting custody over their daughter, and the parallel relationships showcase a big dose of karma for all.
Whether it’s because one son has already left the building, or what goes around comes around, the finale of the film is as unexpected as you can get in ordinary Icelandic suburb.
Family dramas are not a new concept, but when there’s death, gore and assumed infidelity, it’s good to laugh at someone else’s!
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