UNDER THE TREE – movie review

UNDER THE TREE
Magnolia Pictures
Reviewed for Shockya.com by: Harvey Karten
Director: Hafsteinn Gunnar Sigurdsson
Screenwriter: Hafsteinn Gunnar Sigurdsson, Huldar Breidfjord
Cast: Steinthor Hroar Steininthorsson, Edda Bjorgvindottir, Sigurdur Sigurjonsson, Lara Johanna Jonsdittir, Sigridur Sigurpalsdottir Scheving)
Undir trénu Movie Poster

Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 11/13/18
Opens: July 6, 2018: Iceland’s Oscar Candidate for 91st Academy Awards!

Second graders in America know something about George Washington designed, obviously, to encourage the little elves always to tell the truth. When the Washington household’s cherry tree was found on the ground, George’s father asked the future president who chopped down the tree. “I cannot tell a lie,” says George, “I chopped it down.” For telling the truth, George Washington was forgiven, and could hold his head morally high when he took the oath of office. A tree is the source of quite a problem in a movie that opened this year from Iceland, specifically a suburb of Reykjavik where the cube houses all look as though they were just built, there is no litter on the ground, a car in the garage, and hey, this is Iceland where everyone is civilized. Not everyone, though, in fact possibly nobody in this taut yet often hilarious dramedy is quite the person you would expect them to be.

Iceland has daylight six months or the year and darkness the remaining months, so you wonder whether the climate can make people edgy, but there are no real excuses for the spats that escalate from a simple request from a gentleman to the older man living on the other side of the fence. Both leave their doors open most of the time, but when the story plays out and their compatriots in Iceland learn from the newscasts what happened, you can expect the locksmith business to start booming.

Inga (Edda Bjorgvindottir) and her husband Baldvin (Sigurdur Sigurjonnson) live next door to Konrad (Þorsteinn Bachmann) and his athletic second wife Eybjorb (Selmer Bjornsdottir). Inga and Baldvin have a son Atli (Steinthor Hroar Steininthorsson), who is married to Agnes (Lara Johanna Jonsdittir) and have a pretty young daughter Asa (Sigridur Sigurpalsdottir Scheving). When Agnes catches her husband Atli watching a porn and quickly discovers the film was actually of her husband and a neighbor, she kicks him out of the house, leading to a second series of conflicts. While Konrad complains to his neighbors Inga and Baldvin that their tree is shading Konrad’s porch, Konrad does nothing. One thing leads to another. Tires are slashed, a cat is missing and suspected of being poisoned, while something unusual happens to a dog. With tension sky high, the stage is set for a Shakespearean climax.

Actors are probably among Iceland’s leading thesps, each contributing mightily to the ratcheting up of tensions, while a Bach requiem sung by the local chorus foreshadows its use. Though the neighborhood could have been anywhere and is not easily identifying as a Reykjavik suburb, the unusual (to us) names cannot be mistaken. (You won’t find anywhere there with a simple, British name like Sam Jones or Bob Wilson.) They are citizens of a small European state comparatively close to us in New York (a five hour flight on Icelandair), sometimes used by tourists on a two-nights’ break before proceeding to the continent.

Iceland’s candidacy for our Oscar race to be announced February 24, 2019 is a strong one but will face serious competition from scores of other foreign language movies, especially from the German entry, “Never Look Away.”

89 minutes. © 2018 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – B+
Acting – B+
Technical – B
Overall – B+

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