Are you a fan of the Coen brothers, but sometimes don’t think their comedy is dark enough? Maybe you think David Lynch could go further to expose the grim underbelly of suburbia? Icelandic satire Under the Tree is the film for you.
From director Hafsteinn Gunnar Sigurðsson, whose previous credits include Either Way (the inspiration for David Gordon Green’s Prince Avalanche), Under the Tree starts as Alti (Steinþórsson) is kicked out by his wife Agnes (Jónsdóttir) after she catches him watching an unfortunate choice of video, a scene depicted with cringe-inducingly perfect comedic timing.
Alti’s domestic life may be in tatters, but when he goes to stay with his parents, he only stumbles into more chaos, as they’re involved in a dispute with the couple next door over a garden tree in need of a trim. This trivial complaint results in what seems to be a series of petty crimes committed by each household against the other – car tyres are slashed, gardens are sabotaged, a cat goes missing, and on it escalates...
Sigurðsson has created a brilliant set of characters – not people you’d like to meet, but people who are wickedly fun to watch, particularly when pitted against each other. They’re intelligently portrayed, with serious issues in both families’ pasts spurring them on psychologically towards the increasingly bad decisions they all make. The sparring neighbours, and the separating couple, are opposing forces incapable of reconciliation, with extra satire added by the indifference of the world around them – one comic highlight is a flat block meeting where Agnes tries to earn sympathy over Alti’s behaviour only for everyone else to be more concerned with drainage.
Despite such everyday concerns leaking into the script, it’s by no means a slow film, and the tightly structured plot intensifies to an inevitably grisly climax. Like something from Fargo, you’ll laugh, feel bad for laughing, and then laugh again, with the crisp but stylish cinematography and direction also bringing to mind the same Coen classic. It’s a tough movie to be named alongside, but Under the Tree lives up to the comparison.
The movie received a very brief release in a small number of UK cinemas last summer, but is deserving of more attention. Thankfully we now have this combined Blu-ray and DVD release from Eureka Entertainment. The extras are slim – a 23-minute ‘Making Of’ and a trailer – but for world cinema fans who enjoy their comedy with an edge of nastiness, it’s worth adding to the collection. Just don’t play it too loudly at night if your neighbours are the irritable kind.
UNDER THE TREE / CERT: 15 / DIRECTOR: HAFSTEINN GUNNAR SIGURÐSSON / CAST: STEINÞÓR HRÓAR STEINÞÓRSSON, EDDA BJÖRGVINSDÓTTIR, SIGURÐUR SIGURJÓNSSON, LÁRA JÓHANNA JÓNSDÓTTIR / RELEASE DATE: 14TH JANUARY