Perth Festival Film Review: Under The Tree (Iceland, 2017) is a masterclass in neighbourly mutually assured destruction

Neighbourly disputes are really not all that uncommon in the real world, but in Under the Tree, the third feature film from Icelandic director Hafsteinn Gunnar Sigur∂sson, a relatively minor disagreement between two suburban neighbouring families over a tree and the shadow it casts morphs into an ever escalating case of mutually assured destruction culminating in a truly hyperbolic and deadly finale.

Under The Tree, whilst perhaps not groundbreaking cinema, is an eminently watchable funny and entertaining film. The central characters, whilst not exactly sympathetic, are well realised and astutely brought to life by the actors. Inga, played by comedian and actress Edda Björgvinsdóttir probably steals the show though, with her gruff bitterness and disproportionate antics (which are eventually proved to be misguided) only serving to add endless fire to the two couples feud.

Over time and very casually, the cause of Inga’s bitter demeanour is revealed to the audience. There has been a tragedy in the family. The oldest son has disappeared and believed to have committed suicide, although a body has never been found. This has unsurprisingly affected the family, but perhaps none more so than Inga. Frustratingly, this tragedy is never fully or adequately explained, instead Sigur∂sson spends more time focussing on Atil (Steinþór Hróar Steinþórsson) and his disintegrating marriage. Of course his wife kicking him out of the house is the impetus for him going to stay with his parents, introducing the audience to the couple and their feud, but I feel we almost spend too much time on his misguided attempts at reconciliation, and whilst these scenes, and those with his daughter, do provided added emotion to the finale, some of it does feel a touch unnecessary.

Iceland’s dramatic scenery takes a back seat in Under The Tree with much of the action taking place in somewhat nondescript suburbs. Though the importance placed on the tree is a seemingly uniquely Icelandic concern based on some of the director’s comments. And certainly, the film’s finale, with all its hyperbolic destructiveness accentuates the film’s nordic origins.

Under The Tree is a blackly comic, mad-cap, and entertaining film of feuding neighbours, culminating in a truly Hamlet-esque finale. However amongst all the craziness, there is a strong emotional undercurrent, and some wonderful performances.

Review Score: THREE AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)

Under The Tree has sessions as part of Perth Festival at the ECU Joodalup Pines from the 22nd to the 25th of March. For tickets and more details head HERE.