Under the Tree : Chosen as the Icelandic entry for Best Foreign Language Film at this year’s Academy Awards, Hafsteinn Gunnar’s drama follows the feud that unfolds between two neighboring families over a large tree that casts a shadow over a sunroom. As the conflict escalates to startling proportions, one of the neighbors’ sons must deal with a bitter custody battle with his wife for his young daughter.
Knock on Wood: Suburban rivalry has been done to death in both comedic and sinister fashion, but the measures that Under the Tree takes to ensure a unique dilemma is expertly brought to life through the elderly couple Inga and Baldvin’s animosity towards their neighbor Konrad and his younger wife Agnes. Their interactions skirt along the lines of dark humor but play into a fascinating look at the age-old human tendency to wage war—albeit a war that extends between two driveways. The large tree that stands tall and proud in Inga and Baldvin’s yard bears witness to their squabbles—ranging from “who moved those lawn gnomes” to “did the neighbors really just steal the family cat?” Some conflicts are meant to dissipate with time, but the blame placed on these characters lingers until there is no return from the level of damage they inflict on one another.
Made in the Shade: Amid the feuding neighbors is a prominent part of Under the Tree that highlights Inga and Baldvin’s son, Atli, as he separates from his wife. At first seemingly unrelated to the plot, Atli’ s struggle to communicate with his wife after she accuses him of going behind her back and cheating further drives a narrative of natural conflict. The two spouses battle over whether or not Atli will get to see their five-year-old daughter and if he should formally divorce from the mother of his child. The internal obstacles faced within this family are also contrasted by the large tree in the yard of Atli’s parents, representing the way nature withstands time and consequence, even if the people who surround it do not. By the end of the film, these matters appear to be not as significant as initially thought, because the actions of others often leads to their undoing.
Somberly amusing yet effortlessly poignant, Under the Tree shows just how important it is to turn over a new leaf.
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Under the Tree is featured on Borrowing Tape's Best Films of 2017 list.