Hell Is Other People

Turns out Icelanders aren’t all as whimsical as Bjork

Film | by Jorge Ignacio Castillo

Under The Tree
Roxy Theatre

Opens Aug. 10
4 out of 5

We rarely get to see made-in-Iceland movies but that isn’t a reflection of their quality. Films like Rams, 101 Reykjavik and Stormy Weather have a mix of quirkiness and humanity missing in most Western cinema.

The superb Under the Tree shares the same qualities even though it runs darker than its predecessors.

Atli is sent packing by his wife after she catches him watching some old video and “reminiscing” about an ex-girlfriend. Not a particularly bright or sensitive specimen, Atli blows any possibility of reconciliation by stalking and harassing his spouse, and taking their child without permission.

Soon enough we meet Atli’s parents and get a better understanding where this prize husband comes from. Baldvin and Eybjorg are in constant conflict with their neighbours, who complain about a tree in their backyard that casts an inconveniently large shadow. It’s the pettiest of arguments but it threatens to escalate beyond all reason.

At no point is there any doubt Under the Tree is heading toward tragedy, a trajectory that could be changed if anyone involved could summon even a little generosity. Nope. Even the most reasonable participants in this melee are dragged into the muck and the veneer of civilization crumbles easily. Director Hafsteinn Gunnar Sigurdsson doesn’t seem to have much faith in mankind.

For a moral fable, Under the Tree is never patronizing. The consistently unsettling escalation is slightly clunky and predictable but it’s never boring. Clearly made on a shoestring, Under the Tree makes the North American industry look bland. Really, how many coming-of-age movies set in cottages do we need?

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