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Something is rotten even in the state of Iceland. Overturning "The Tree of Life" (Malick, 2011), under the natural (a secular tree) or prefabricated (Ikea) shadow of an apparent coexistence exemplarily civil, phlegmatic and orderly, the human emotional geysers erupt, anorexic in the soma and hypertrophic in affective wounds, chain reactions originated by inexorable traumas since without body, corpse, tomb. These cascade mechanisms of frustration are already known to comparative psychology and in 1980 Resnais has dedicated to them perhaps his best film, "Mon oncle d'Amerique", with respect to which "Under the Tree" is derivative.
Not a Comedy. Disturbing thriller.
Quite interesting and captivating, despite the fact that it can be also somewhat unbelievable at some point.
Over the top movie that’s meant to show neighbours going beyond the norm to make a point! This movie had funny and sad moments for sure!
Under the Tree is a real mixed bag. There are elements of this movie that are really nice. The cast is really great, everyone puts a lot into their characters. There are scenes and subplots that are really lovely. The whole plotline of the son and his wife splitting up felt very real, where both parties feel betrayed and are behaving poorly but understandably. The slow progression of these two people realizing that they were both acting stupid is really nice and wrapped up very well at the end of the movie. Of course this whole arc has almost nothing to do with the main plot of the film, so while it's the better part of the movie and it plays to it's themes, it does lack some cohesion.
The first half of the main plotline is fairly dull. Neighbours in a middle class neighbourhood getting a little too worked up about whether or not to trim a tree. It's some really mundane, trivial nonsense, but the mother of our protagonist family gets very worked up about it, and is obviously a little unhinged. But nothing about their little suburban spat is all that interesting until forty minutes in when the mother come home to find her door ajar and some garden gnomes sitting on her table. At this point it gets more interesting and anxious. We are treated to some wonderful moments of shocking emotional pain, like the mother singing happy birthday to the son that disappeared years ago, or the neighbours finding their dead dog in a very interesting way.
Unfortunately there are some poor choices overall. The editing is very strange. There are a lot of ominous cut-aways to the tree in the yard accompanied by horror music, as though the tree is scary, but it isn't. All these edits serve to do is make the conclusion of the tree a little obvious. There are a lot of moments in this movie that struck me as very funny, but the movie was edited to seem very serious. The last dog scene felt very comedic, but was cut without the timing for laughs to form. I swear you could take all of the footage from this movie and cut it into a very funny dark comedy, but instead it's an intense thriller. Even the ending of the movie, which ends with a horror music stinger, but would have worked just as well if that sound cue was replaced with the Curb Your Enthusiasm theme (special thanks to Tyler Toppings for that mental image). The confrontation of the men of both households at the end feels unearned. They hadn't really had any conflict prior to the tree scene and so the intensity of the final basement scene doesn't quite feel in character for either of them.
Ultimately the end of the movie feels empty due to insufficient stakes and the script completely forgetting to wrap up several subplots. We're never told what was up with the gnomes appearing in their house without anyone showing up on the security cameras, and it's never clear why there is a whole plotline about the neighbours trying to have a kid. But the cinematography is really nice, it creates some wonderful imagery and the movie's colouring gives a really hopeless feeling that pervades the whole film. It's good at creating a mood and giving it's actors small scenes to thrive in, but the script falls apart pretty quickly on a closer inspection.
On a positive, I was never bored. But it was tonally all over the place with a climax so melodramatic it was comical. Plus I sort of guessed everything that was coming.
A dark film in a gloriously icelandic package. under the tree tells the story of escalating tensions between neighbors, situational humour is created from OTT events which are crafted with a sense of grounded reality. The tree forms the lynchpin of the story and subtly raised questions of moral shade, branching paths, and the mundane nature of it all which becomes so destructive. Recommend, the drama alone will make you reconsider petty squabbles you may have in real life.
All neighbours should be forced to watch this disturbing film. Having been a local govt councillor for a long time I know this is not very exaggerated. Most people seem to just stop short of murder thankfully, but the rest is factual.
Decent, but forgettable
Nordic comedy is jet black, with its opacity often such that non-Nordic audiences are left asking "was that really a comedy?" Not necessarily because they didn't find it funny, but because they're not entirely sure what parts they were supposed to find funny, how they were supposed to find it funny, even if they were supposed to find it funny. In Iceland, the term for this kind of comedy is "galgahumor" ("gallows humour"), comedies which focus on dark subjects which one wouldn't immediately recognise as comedic.
Written by Hafsteinn Gunnar Sigurdsson and Huldar Breidfjord, and directed by Sigurdsson, the film begins with Agnes (Lara Johanna Jonsdottir) throwing out her husband Atli (Steinthor Hroar Steinthorsson), for cheating, forcing him to return to his parents, Baldvin (Sigurdur Sigurjonsson) and Inga (Edda Bjorgvinsdottir). Next-door live Konrad (Thorsteinn Bachmann) and his wife Eybjorg (Selma Bjornsdottir), who is closer in age to Atli than she is to Konrad himself. The two couples are in the midst of a passive-aggressive dispute concerning a large tree in Baldvin and Inga's garden, which is casting a shadow over Konrad and Eybjorg's sundeck. Baldvin is open to the possibility of trimming it, but Inga point-blank refuses. What the film does is to juxtapose the two main conflicts, as they each becomes more and more bitter, and the parties involved more extreme. And this is the film's core - a serious marital conflict contrasted with a farcical neighbouring conflict.
This is how a lot of galgahumor works - the serious and the absurd placed alongside one another. An especially good example of this in Undir trenu can be found in the opening scene. The film begins with Agnes and Atli going to bed, as Agnes puts in ear-plugs, and the sounds of a couple having sex can be heard. The film then cuts to a shot of a couple in bed, with the sound bridging the cut, letting the audience know this is the same couple heard in the previous scene. Except it isn't. Another cut reveals that this couple are in a film Atli is watching on a laptop in the living room. Wearing headphones, he doesn't hear Agnes come in, and as he begins to masturbate, she asks him if he's watching porn. Slamming the laptop shut, denies it. However, he is unaware that the porn he was watching is now playing on the computer screen behind him, in full view of Agnes. However, the farcical manner in which the scene has progressed thus far is undermined as Agnes realises he hasn't been watching professional porn - rather, he has been watching an amateur video, in which he is the star. The multiple misunderstandings and layered realisations, coupled with a well-handled manipulation of audience expectation render the scene farcical, but rounded out with a much more serious tone.
The film also features elements which are much more straightforwardly funny. For example, as Agnes and Atli's split becomes more and more bitter, Baldvin chastises Atli, telling him that he and Agnes should have been able to sort things out by now, talking things through "like grown-ups". Good advice. Except, when Baldvin offers it, he is about to spend the night sleeping in a tent in his back garden so as to prevent Konrad from cutting down the tree.
Unfortunately, however, for a film with such a farcical plot, it's immensely predictable. About twenty minutes in, I guessed how it would end - not just in terms of where the plot would go, but I literally guessed what the last shot would be. That kind of predictability is never good. It's also a little difficult to see what Sigurdsson is trying to say. Part absurdist comedy-of-manners, part satire of first-world problems, there isn't a huge amount of substance here. Is the film offering up a commentary on the inherent pettiness that can come to dominate divorce proceedings, or is it more concerned with mocking the self-importance of middle-class suburbia?
Also, when the inevitable happens, and the humour gives way to inexorable darkness, with the two conflicts dovetailing, and tragedy enveloping all six main characters, I don't think Sigurdsson handles the transition especially well. Rather than allowing the material to become as serious as he does, perhaps maintaining a comic through-line would have been more effective. Instead, the film lets the comedy drop away entirely.
All in all, it's enjoyable enough but there isn't a huge amount of substance, and, in the long-term, it's not especially memorable.