Marie finds an intriguing lesson from the ‘well that escalated quickly’ school of filmmaking with Under The Tree.
Icelandic director Hafsteinn Gunnar Sigurðsson’s latest feature Under The Tree opens with a marriage in difficulty and ends somewhere totally unexpected. Atli (Steinþór Hróar Steinþórsson) is ejected from the marital home after betraying his wife. Showing no remorse but a lot of anger, he returns to his parents and finds himself drawn into an increasingly vicious spat between his parents and their neighbours.
The tree of the title appears to be the catalyst for the initial disagreement, although as the emotional baggage carried by each of the individuals is revealed, it becomes clear that the struggles we can’t see are the ones which are truly driving the actions. Who knows what goes on behind closed doors and what burdens each of us carries?
There are touches of the Nordic absurd in the first two acts, some of which are bound to provoke thoughts along the lines of “No! Don’t do that!” as characters allow their stubbornness to get the better of them, and things get embarrassingly out of hand.
But then an unexpected twist occurs, and what happens afterwards is more extreme than anything seen up to that point, with domestic grievances having unexpectedly serious outcomes.
With the population of Iceland currently just over 330,000 (no, I haven’t missed a zero off!) and the majority of people living in urban areas and in close proximity to their neighbours, being a good neighbour is an important part of society. But among the absurdity, there’s also a message on a wider scale about how warring countries or factions look to a casual observer. If you’ve ever found yourself asking “Why would they even do that” when groups start throwing ridiculous insults around, then you’ll understand what I mean.
Under The Tree is a study in how small niggles can suddenly escalate into something altogether more violent – and sadly there’s quite a lot to be learned from watching others push the self-destruct button.