(Release Info London schedule; August 10th, 2018, Picturehouse, 21:50)
"Under The Tree"
Agnes (Lára Jónsdóthir) throws Atli (Steinbór Steinbórsson) out and does not want him to see their daughter Ása (Sigridir Scheving) anymore. He moves in with his parents, who are involved in a bitter dispute over their big and beautiful tree that casts a shadow on the neighbours’ deck. As Atli fights for the right to see his daughter, the dispute with the neighbours intensifies, property is damaged, pets mysteriously go missing, security cameras are being installed and there's a rumor that the neighbor was seen with a chainsaw. When Baldvin (Siguóur Sigurjónsson) and Inga’s (Edda Bjòrgvinsdótir) next door neighbours complain that a tree in their backyard casts a shadow over their sundeck, what starts off as a typical spat between neighbours in the suburbs unexpectedly and violently spirals out of control. "Under The Tree" follows a man who's accused of adultery and forced to move in with his parents. While he fights for custody of his four-year-old daughter, he's gradually sucked into a dispute between his parents and their neighbors over an old and beautiful tree. What starts as a typical spat between suburban neighbors unexpectedly and violently reaches a boiling point, soon spiraling out of control.
This film is about neighborly disputes. What excited originally about the idea is that such conflicts can be absurdly funny since they very often revolve around minor issues, but then very often get blown out of all proportion. They can sometimes become very fierce, violent conflicts, in which normal, respectable people lose their dignity and self-control. Stories of neighbors fighting over trees are actually quite well known in Iceland so, and in fact, the story is in some sense inspired by a real-life incident, although the script then developed into something completely fictional. What’s also important to know is that trees are not all that common in Iceland, so if you've an old and beautiful tree standing in your garden, you’re very unlikely to ever want to let go of it. But on the other hand, if a tree in the next garden is preventing any sun from shining into your garden, you're going to want to get rid of that tree. Especially since you don ́t get much sunshine in Iceland. It’s the kind of head to head dilemma that unfortunately is hard to solve in a diplomatic way.
The favorite subject-matter of Northern European fiction, the disintegration of social bonds that takes place behind well-preserved house walls, emerges through an intricate polyphonic composition that brings harmony into chaos. It's ́a great source for cinematic material. Mainly because our lives are most of the time made up of the mundane, this is what we know best and this is one of the elements that connects our human existence. It's a great challenge to make a thriller-esque drama about something as innocent as a beautiful tree. To make a war film where home is the battlefield. Music also plays a key part in defining the increasingly dark tone. Using music along with cinematography is a very important tool to create that feeling of unease and suspense. Especially since the narrative does take some unexpected turns in the latter half, the score turned out to be an essential and effective way to prepare this shift. By the end it turns into sort of a fable where the larger metaphor is living in a community, in peace with other humans. In that sense you can also read this story as one about two different, conflicting nations, ethnic or religious groups. Those stories share some things in common with the issues we can have with our neighbors.
You can see the film as a cautionary tale for our time, about what can happen when coexistence and compromise start to fail. There are some terrible things in the air these days and we've reached the point where it's seriously threatening our existence on this planet. If we look at the biggest narrative of our times, climate change, it's exactly about that. The whole world has to come together and let go of a certain way of living but it seems that we just can't. We all have the same objective, and really we all have to compromise in one way or another and be considerate of each other, and if we don't, we're risking the future of our children. But still we can't do it. It's this terrible individualistic way of thinking and living, which is indeed encouraged by our capitalistic society.