Under the Tree (4 stars)

Under the Tree

Amusing and involving Icelandic drama documenting an escalating feud between neighbours

Hell is other people in Under the Tree (Undir trénu). They suffocate and infuriate, prevent us from doing what we want and hold us to account for unconscionable acts. The intense resentment of others lies at the centre of a film that confidently travels from mordant black comedy to shocking Jacobean-like tragedy.

Icelandic director Hafsteinn Gunnar Sigurðsson's previous films include Either Way, which was remade as Prince Avalanche with Paul Rudd. Under the Tree has echoes of Raymond Carver and the more misanthropic ensemble pieces of Todd Solondz as it charts the way that people bring out the worst in each other.

Errant husband Atli (Steinþór Hróar Steinþórsson) has been thrown out of the family home and takes refuge with his parents. They are caught up in an escalating feud with their close neighbours over a tree that blocks out the sun from their garden porch.

There is much more than a tree at stake here. The more resentment deepens, the more individuals are drawn into actions that no sane or decent person would contemplate. It is as if Sigurðsson is quietly observing the effects of a sickness that spreads throughout the community, manifesting itself in paranoia, jealousy and petty acts of vindictiveness.

A very compact piece of storytelling, Under the Tree is highly amusing and emotionally involving as it draws you into individuals and situations that seem strikingly true to life. As Sigurðsson rips apart the deceptive certainties of a civilised existence, laughter freezes and collateral damage intensifies.

Lightly touching on a wide range of issues – from trust to grief, betrayal, loss and the tricky art of compromise – Under the Tree really chimes with the era of Brexit and Trump, suggesting that in trying to live with others we first have to learn to live with ourselves.

Selected release from Fri 10 Aug.

Under The Tree

  • 4 stars
  • 2017
  • Iceland
  • 1h 29min
  • 15
  • Directed by: Hafsteinn Gunnar Sigurðsson
  • Cast: Steinþór Hróar Steinþórsson, Edda Björgvinsdóttir, Sigurður Sigurjónsson
  • UK release: 10 August 2018

Atli (Steinþórsson) is an errant husband who’s been thrown out of the family home and goes to live with his parents, where they all get caught up in an escalating feud with their neighbours over a tree. Highly amusing and emotionally involving drama about resentment of others, which goes from mordant comedy to almost…