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  • Warning: Spoilers
    In the description of "Under the Tree" in the film festival guide, it was a bit difficult to see whether or not the movie was a comedy. And, in watching it, this difficulty was NOT alleviated. Some folks saw the film as an ultra-dark comedy (perhaps like "War of the Roses") others saw it as a drama or cautionary tale. As for me, I just felt it was too dark to be laughed at and overall I found that it was well made but miserable to watch.

    The film is about a husband-wife who split up as well as the parents of this husband and their arguments with their neighbors about unimportant things. In both cases, the people become so embroiled in winning that they lose sight of what is right and what is reasonable and it all occurs in stages.

    At times, the film just went too far with these arguments. For example, one neighbor couldn't find their cat so they assumed the neighbor killed it. So, they had the neighbor's dog euthanized, stuffed and left it on their doorstep. Some might laugh at this...I was just horrified. The acting was good and the film watchable but incredibly nasty and unpleasant.

    By the way, something extraordinary happened during this viewing at the Philadelphia Film Festival. One man in the audience was laughing uproariously throughout the film. His response was extreme and unusual to say the least. Well, it apparently really offended another guy in the theater and through the course of the film they began screaming at each other. At the finale, it got uglier and I rushed to get Film Society staff because it looked as if they'd come to blows!! So, obviously one guy thought this was a great dark comedy and one thought it was a drama and it was offensive for anyone to laugh at the hellish story. Amazing that neither apparently saw that they were acting out the picture!!
  • Warning: Spoilers
    Atli is pushed out of his home by wife Agnes after she discovers him watching a sex tape that features him. He tries desperately to talk to her and get time with their daughter Asa at her kindergarten, but his behavior turns stalker-ish. Atli has crashed at his parents' place: Baldvin and Inga have commenced a fight with their neighbors over a tree in their yard that the neighbors, Konrad and trim young second wife Eybjorg, complain throws too much shade on their deck.

    All the characters misread situations, let their anger push them to escalate in vengeful responses, and often give one another good advice which nobody follows. It might be misleading to call "Under the Tree" a dark comedy, because although it is often hilarious and even approaches over-the-top farce at times, the plot raises multiple serious issues in its fairly believable yet inexorable way, from aging and mental health, to grief and the fatal consequences of failing to speak up when one should.

    Coolly but beautifully shot, and fiercely acted, especially the unsavory roles portrayed by Steinþórsson as Atli and Björgvinsdóttir as his fierce and cruel mother Inga, this is a startling story that does not take any easy turns.
  • Anyone who knows anything about Scandinavian cinema knows two things. The first is that Nordic noir is huge at the moment. Originally used to describe crime fiction told from the perspective of the police (good examples are Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö's Martin Beck novels, Henning Mankell's Kurt Wallander novels, and Jo Nesbø's Harry Hole novels), the term has more recently been employed in relation to a wider-ranging genre of television shows (Forbrydelsen (2007), Bron/Broen (2011), Ófærð (2015), Fortitude (2015), Midnight Sun (2016)) and films (Insomnia (1997), Mýrin (2006), ID:A (2011), Jagten (2012)). The other thing that anyone knows is that 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.

    I'm thinking of films such as Trolljegeren (2010) (found-footage of a trollhunter, who operates by weakening his quarry with the sounds of Christian rock), Rare Exports (2010) (a research team in Lapland find a massive underground chamber, in which is held a hibernating Joulupukki, the murderous Scandinavian precursor of Santa Claus), Iron Sky (2012) (Nazis living on the moon since 1945 return to earth to re-establish the Third Reich), Hundraåringen som klev ut genom fönstret och försvann (2013) (the 100-year-old resident of a nursing home escapes from a window and has a series of adventures), Kraftidioten (2014) (a snowplough driver starts a gang war whilst seeking vengeance for the death of his son), Hrútar (2015) (two brothers who haven't spoken in decades must work together to save a herd of sheep), and Mænd & høns (2015) (a group of five middle-aged half-brothers learn of one another's existence for the first-time). In Iceland, the term used to describe this kind of comedy is "gálgahúmor" ("gallows humour"), and it's a style which is often lost on international audiences - as the brief plot summaries above suggest, it often focuses on dark subjects which one wouldn't immediately recognise as comedic - what we might term, only partially correctly, as "tragi-comedy". And so, with all of this in mind, we have Undir trénu, as textbook an example of gálgahúmor as you're likely to find.

    Written by Hafsteinn Gunnar Sigurðsson and Huldar Breiðfjörð, and directed by Sigurðsson, the film begins with Agnes (Lára Jóhanna Jónsdóttir) accusing her husband, Atli (Steinþór Hróar Steinþórsson), of cheating. Although he denies it, she throws him out, and he returns to his parents, Baldvin (Sigurður Sigurjónsson) and Inga (Edda Björgvinsdóttir). A shadow hangs over the family in the shape of the disappearance years earlier of Atli's older brother, Uggi. Whilst most people, including Atli and Baldvin, believe Uggi committed suicide, Inga refuses to accept this, still expecting him to return home at some point. Next-door live Konrad (Þorsteinn Bachmann) and his wife Eybjorg (Selma Björnsdóttir), 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, arguing that Konrad's first wife never had a problem with it, and it is only because of Eybjorg's vanity that there is an issue now.

    All of this is set up within the first ten minutes or so, and what plays out for the rest of the film is a juxtaposition of the two main conflicts - that between Agnes and Atli on the one hand, and that between the neighbouring couples on the other - as each becomes more and more bitter, and the parties involved more extreme. And this is essentially the film's bread-and-butter - a serious marital conflict contrasted with a farcical neighbouring conflict, with each commenting upon and informing the other; no matter how serious the dispute regarding the tree becomes, it is always tempered and rendered preposterous by the much more consequential issues playing out between Atli and Agnes. Likewise, no matter how acrimonious that conflict becomes, it is always called into relief by the comedic elements in the dispute concerning the tree.

    This is how a lot of gálgahúmor works - the serious and the absurd placed alongside one another so as to create a somewhat unrealistic milieu. An especially good example of this in Undir trénu can be found in the opening scene, which plays out in a more conventional comedic style than is typical of the genre, before a tonal shift renders everything far less humourless. 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 on the soundtrack. The film then cuts to a shot of a couple in bed, with the sound bridging the cut, and letting the audience know this is the same couple heard in the previous scene. Except it isn't. Another cut reveals that some time has passed, and the couple in bed is actually 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, he jumps up and flat out 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. All pretty funny up to this point. 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 (and an excellent example of an L cut being used thematically) render the scene farcical, but only up until the point Agnes recognises Atli on screen. Here, the tone shifts dramatically as the film essentially switches genres mid-scene.

    Another example of such a shift is found during a resident's meeting in Agnes and Atli's apartment block. The meeting has been called by an especially fastidious resident to address the loud love-making of a young couple - the same couple heard in the opening scene. As the irritated chair and his heavily pregnant wife detail all they've had to listen to at night, including a truly hilarious reaction to the young couple's dirty talk, the scene plays out in a fairly conventionally comedic way (the addition of a hard-of-hearing neighbour who doesn't understand what all the fuss is about is particularly funny). This comedic element is maintained when Agnes attempts to embarrass Atli by standing up and asking the residents if they think it's normal that he films himself having sex with women and then masturbates to the footage, to which the man in the loud couple nonchalantly responds, "Sure." However, the scene darkens considerably when nobody reacts to Agnes's question the way she expected, and she is effectively dismissed and told to sit back down, leaving herself far more embarrassed than anyone else. Comedy in the midst of heartbreak, tragedy transposed into humour.

    The film also features elements which are much more straightforwardly funny, albeit if relying on the audience's capacity to detect irony. 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 (who had purchased a chainsaw earlier in the day) from cutting down the tree. Atli himself doesn't point this irony out to Baldvin, and it's up to the audience to read between the lines and see the absurdity on display.

    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. And I was right. A colleague of mine came to an identical conclusion when he was watching it. That kind of predictability is never good. It's also a little difficult to see what Sigurðsson is trying to say with the film. 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 and the attitude that an argument about a tree can be seen as more important than the breakup of a marriage?

    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 Sigurðsson handles the transition especially well. Rather than allowing the material to become as ultra and unironically serious as he does, perhaps maintaining a comedic through-line would have been more effective (Kraftidioten is a good example of how to do this - although the film gets exceptionally dark in the final act, which features precious little seemingly worth laughing at, it maintains its comedic edge, right up until, literally, the last shot). Undir trénu lets the comedy drop away entirely, and although the last scene may be an attempt to share a wink with the audience, it comes on the back of a couple of scenes which weren't especially well integrated into the tone of the preceding narrative.

    All in all, it's enjoyable enough whilst it lasts, but there isn't a huge amount of substance, and, in the long-term, it's not especially memorable.
  • The humor is pitch black and the characters extremely serious. The movie is hilarious and depressed at the same time. The acting is good for the most part. There are a few scenes where you notice some mistakes but nothing that has a terrible effect on the movie over all. The cinematography was superb, a lot of cool shots that made the movie extra depressed. I was happy with the music choices as well, really put the nail in the coffin with this one.

    One happy Icelander after seeing this at the movies. Do recommend 8/10.

    Script is amazing.
  • This movie is beautifully pictured in telling us that when people don't overcome their difficulties they face in life then how these difficulties get to their nerves and ruined their life even more. The problem I had with this movie is why it showed in comedy genre?
  • Warning: Spoilers
    By his own admission, film-maker Hafsteinn Gunnar Sigurðsson, is drawn towards the mundane.

    "Our lives are most of the time made up of the mundane," he suggests. "This is what we know best and I believe this is one of the elements that connects our human existence, " he goes on to say.

    This is very true of Sigurðsson's new Icelandic drama/comedy, Undir Trenu; a film which illustrates effectively how a petty squabble has the potential to escalate into something far more sinister altogether, if allowed to.

    A beautiful old tree stands tall in Baldvin and Inga's back garden. With trees being something of a rarity in Iceland, Baldvin is loathe to trim it down in size despite it clearly blocking out the sunlight - an equally rare commodity in this part of the world - from the neighbours' garden.

    These neighbours are understandably aggrieved and have requested umpteen times that something be done about it.

    And thus has ensued a sort of tit-for-tat game of exponentially escalating juvenile pranks between these two 'warring' households, with each becoming increasingly embroiled in this pointless game of one-up-man-ship, in an attempt to force the others' hand.

    Encroaching Conifers and comical capers aside, Sigurðsson's film is in fact something of a weighty affair, examining as it does the affects of depression, anxiety, despondency and regret.

    Indeed, all is far from well in the lives of the film's key protagonists.

    Baldvin (Sigurður Sigurjónsson) and Inga (Edda Björgvinsdóttir) have a son, Atli (Steinþór Hróar Steinþórsson), who has, unannounced, come to live with them until such time as his wife, Agnes (Lára Jóhanna Jónsdóttir), agrees to let him back into their home following her discovery of a sort of historic marital transgression; a situation made doubly awkward given the thorny issue of child custody.

    Inga suffers from depression fuelled by her inability and point-blank refusal to come to terms with the disappearance of her other son, and it has has left her a bitter and deeply unhappy woman.

    In an attempt to cope with all of this, her husband Baldvin frequently seeks sanctuary in the bottom of a bottle.

    As for next door, neighbour Konrad, (Þorsteinn Bachmann), has taken up with the much younger (forty-something) Eyborg (Selma Björnsdóttir), with whom he will soon be having a baby. Whilst on the surface everything seems rosy between them, there is a strong suspicion that all such happy family-planning is more down to the last-chance-saloon desperate midlife desire of his lady, and that recent divorcee, Konrad, is in fact something of an unhappy and reluctant passenger on this particular ride, and now paying the price for his rebound fling.

    With choice Rachmaninoff, Bach and the haunting mournful strains of an all-male Icelandic choir added to Daníel Bjarnason's deeply affecting and unnerving synth and sample-heavy score, Undir Trenu is lent a real sense of gravitas, lifting it from the realms of straight forward comedy into something altogether more thoughtful and substantial.

    Rich in metaphor and artistically shot, Undir Trenu may not always be entirely convincing on its journey from comic farce to tragedy, but it undoubtedly leaves an indelible imprint on the mind as it gathers pace, beckoning us towards its unexpected and unsettling conclusion.

    This and hundreds of other films are reviewed on my WaywardWolfBlog
  • "Tis better to be that which we destroy," said MacBeth "than by destruction dwell in doubtful joy." This advice goes unheeded by a cluster of people on the outskirts of Reykjavik. Trivial matters take on increased significance and are taken to extremes. Such things as a missing cat, haughty new girlfriend and solitary tree, fuel doubt, suspicion, revenge and anger. Nothing is too trivial to spar over. At the foundation of it all is grief, depression, indifference and loneliness, but people let their emotions spiral out of control anyway. Has everyone lost their minds?! Perhaps they have.

    This darkly humorous cautionary tale about the hazards of runaway passions, is as frightening as it is funny. This is because the truths of the film cut to the bone about human character. The scenes, conversations and characters are straightforward and unassuming. The music is well chosen, actors are believable, and many scenes are refreshingly atypical of Hollywood fare, such as a beautiful view of downtown Reykjavik. Seen at the Miami Film Festival.
  • Have a lot of love for foreign language films, of all decades and all genres. That and that it was another film seen as part of my quest to see as many 2018 films as possible were my main reasons in seeing 'Under the Tree' from Icelandic director Hafsteinn Gunnar Sigurdsson.

    'Under the Tree' is a truly fine film and manages to take a relevant subject (feuding neighbours) and explore it in a way that was hilarious, shocking and moving. It won't be one of my favourite films any time soon, but in no way should it be overlooked and should be seen as an example of how to execute a film with a subject like this well. Sadly, 'Under the Tree' has been released here alongside more expensive in budget films that have been quite big box office successes and films that people are more likely to go and see. While having enjoyed many of the films in question (in no way is it intended to be knock), 'Under the Tree' is better than most of them and deserves better.

    Sure 'Under the Tree' is occasionally a touch overcooked and some may find some of the behaviours extreme.

    However, Sigurdsson directs with a perfect balance of hilarious mayhem and melancholic pathos. This is also reflected in the thought-provoking script he scripted with Huldar Breidfjord. Many parts are hilarious in a dark way, others genuinely shock and there are emotional parts too, all in a way that is kept plausible throughout. Neighbour feuding sounds insignificant on paper to some, but 'Under the Tree' makes it darkly funny, disturbing and melancholic, a not easy feat but beautifully done here.

    The storytelling is always compelling, with the tensions having a bleakness and ferocity while still entertaining and emotionally resonating. There is a good deal happening, but not in a way that it feels cluttered with too many characters and subplots, instead there is enough breathing space and depth while having an alertness to the drama.

    A good cast would be needed to bring all this life. Luckily, 'Under the Tree's' cast is excellent. Particularly note-worthy of a cast where everybody is good and nobody bad is Edda Bjorgvinsdottir on fiercely intense form, her character near-unhinged.

    It is a very well made film visually, beautifully shot in particular. The music is inspired, appropriate and cleverly used.

    Overall, great and shouldn't be forgotten. 9/10 Bethany Cox
  • essopost1 February 2018
    The story reminds me old Icelandic sagas, the conflict between neighbors and the sad end but i don't find anything depressing in this movie, just shows how fool and stubborn some people are.
  • Henry_Seggerman28 November 2020
    Remember "Love Thy Neighbor?" It doesn't apply! If you've ever had a little tiff with a neighbor, you know what I'm talking about. You know how a microscopic dispute can devolve into WWIII real vast. This just gets funnier and more intense as the movie goes on.
  • Although in many ways this plays out much like an old fashioned TV movie, there is at the same time an extremely dark element and some terrible moments. Centered around the notion of two sets of sparring neighbours and supposedly a dark comedy involving a disputed tree, this is actually pitch black and amusing only once or twice, as far as I am concerned. How much this is due to a difference in sensibilities or culture between us Brits and the Icelandic people is hard to gauge and even a short discussion included on the disc failed to clarify this one iota. Indeed listening to the two leads chortling away seemed quite disturbing. In any event, despite being without any particularly stylish or interesting photography, this is an engaging and surprisingly entertaining tale that will make you smile once or twice and gasp perhaps even more.
  • It's an interesting story about escalation of retribution and misery caused by loss and dishonesty but it is NOT comedy.
  • It's not because this film was not excellent enough, but because at the Academy they couldn't face with their own true self. This film illustrates how our (mine too) ego works. Pathetic? No, no oh no! This is totally normal! Normal? Well, it's not really! But it's true!
  • Warning: Spoilers
    The movie is really well shot which makes it particularly enjoyable to watch. The characters are interesting and the family drama is really well-built, especially the story around Askurs' brother disappearance, which gets revealed as the movie goes on. The ending is quite heavy but all-together the movie isn't so difficult to watch as it also has some lighter scenes and even some humor. I really enjoyed the whole experience of watching this movie, and it's not everyday you get to watch an Icelandic movie! I would definitely recommend it.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    Thrown out of the marital home when his wife catches him watching a sex tape featuring him with a woman who is not her, the foolishly-tatooed Atli (Steinþór Hróar Steinþórsson) slinks back to the home of his parents, Inga and Baldvin (Edda Björgvinsdóttir and Sigurður Sigurjónsson). But they are distracted not only with mourning for Atli's brother, who disappeared many years ago, but also by a feud with their next-door neighbours (one of whom, I was delighted to realise, is played by Selma Björnsdóttir, runner-up of the 1999 Eurovision Song Contest!) The feud concerns a tree in Inga and Baldvin's garden which casts a shadow over the neighbours' lawn. As Atli goes about trying to win access to his daughter, the neighbourly feud spirals out of control.

    It seems that most films from Iceland are given the 'black comedy' tag, but this one is darker, and has less comedy, than most: although the feud's ultimate resolution would be unlikely to happen in real life, it is all too easy to imagine real life getting at least close to the film. As for Atli's storyline, after the initial 'ho ho ho, his wife caught him looking at a sex tape' moment, there are no laughs there. In fact, Atli's storyline is one of the main flaws of the film: it is interesting in a soap opera sort of way, but it is not obvious why so much time is spent on it when the focus of the film is supposed to be, presumably, the feud over the tree. It is almost as if the writers, Huldar Breiðfjörð and Hafsteinn Gunnar Sigurðsson (the latter also directed) could not spin out the feud to fill the entire film so thought they would use Atli's situation as padding. Another flaw of the film is poor lighting: interior scenes, especially, often look bleak and washed-out. While that may be intended to set the tone of the film, the viewer can not help wondering why these people in their nice houses do not switch on a few lights...

    Acting honours go to Björgvinsdóttir, who does a very nice turn as a parent whose grief over her other son's disappearance finds relief only in her antipathy to her neighbours. Sigurjónsson's portrayal of her husband, unsure how to cope with her, is also good, although he loses his admirable subtleness in the final few minutes and descends into acting-by-numbers, which is a shame. Steinþórsson is competent in his soap opera role. As the neighbours, I particularly enjoyed Þorsteinn Bachmann and the afore-mentioned Björnsdóttir's realistic portrayal of joyful relief when their missing dog turns up on the doorstep - all the more poignant for the viewer, who knows the dog is not as healthy as he at first seems...
  • Warning: Spoilers
    A dark comedy indeed, Under the Tree guarantees an interesting experience at the theatre. The film finds its tone from the jump, jet-black humor feeding off depressed circumstances, and remains pleasantly consistent throughout-though this stylistic choice will make or break the experience for you. While there's no shortage of wit amongst these characters, nearly all of the humor revolves around one person being particularly nasty to another. Even on a 90 minute run time, I found this harsh demeanor to be kind of a drag (maybe dark comedies aren't my thing, maybe I missed the point; take your pick). Following the dissolution of several marriages-one for newfound life, one fighting for custody, and one for a reprieve from grief-it's hard to believe Under the Tree wouldn't wrangle a genuine emotional reaction out most audience members by the time credits roll. Perhaps more valuable as a meditation on severe familial dysfunction than as a straight comedy, the film will likely scratch an itch for Icelandic brevity you didn't think you had.
  • If you are looking for something very simmilar to Wild Tales, you should watch this film. Hilariously funny and scary.
  • mail-3997929 May 2020
    Everything, that may go wrong in people's lives and neighborhoods, goes wrong in this movie. Absolutely everything. A scent of Tarantino and Lars von Trier gives this movie an epic end.
  • Very interesting film which might sound dull on first reading the description, but which grabs your attention from the beginning, and keeps it going till the end. The last 5 minutes was a nice wrap up and conclusion!
  • I won't spoil it but this Icelandic masterpiece is an absolutely gripping tale of neighbours at war over a tree.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    This film was a more than pleasant surprise for me. I am a big fan of Icelandic literary and crime fiction, while I am always checking out any movie or television series produced in the island, irregardless of genre. ''Under the Tree'' (original title: ''Undir trénu'') is a dark, character-based drama which flirts with other genres, especially comedy, and one can successfully characterize the film as a tragicomedy. In the case of ''Under the Tree'', the characterization takes priority over the story which is schematic and concerns the dispute, between two neighboring families, about the existence of a big tree on one's garden that conceals the sun from the other one. The ''war'' between the two families becomes crueler and more hateful as the plot unfolds and finally, the story concludes with a tragedy involving the son of one of the two rivals. The performances are remarkable as the film is casting an army of seasoned Icelandic actors like Þorsteinn Bachmann and Sigurður Sigurjónsson. Edda Björgvinsdóttir' performance as the obnoxious and creepy Inga is worthy of a special mention. This is a rather disturbing storyline and the viewer should be warned in advance about a brutal animal cruelty scene near the end of the film. The director, Hafsteinn Gunnar Sigurðsson, a young and talented Icelandic auteur puts the strained relationships between two middle-class families under the microscope and seems to be relentless regarding his observations and conclusions on the contemporary urban-based human condition. So, if anyone expects to see a light movie in order to laugh, ''Under the Tree'' is not the right film for him. On the other hand, those cinephiles who understand entertainment as recreation, rather than simple amusement will be thoroughly satisfied by this little-known diamond of film, coming from the remote Iceland.
  • Pairic27 August 2018
    Under The Tree: Icelandic dark comedy. A quarrel between two neighbouring families escalates. Car tires are slashed. A cat and a dog go missing. Insulting garden homes are left as a "present". The way this film moves from the mundane to the macabre in just 89 minutes is a virtual assault on your senses. There is a subplot about the son of one couple breaking up with his partner and even this is bizarre, especially a "house meeting" in their apartment building. Be warned: this is not for the faint hearted. 8/10.