When I introduced Under the Tree at the 2018 Miami Film Festival back in March, I was hesitant to say too much about the film. This is a movie best experienced, not explained. However, there was one small thing I told the audience to keep in the back of their heads: view this film through the lens of a dark comedy. Heed that advice, and I think you’ll find Under the Tree to be a hidden gem beyond your wildest expectations.
Iceland’s official submission to the 2018 Academy Awards, Under the Tree blew me away upon my first viewing. A masterful exercise in pacing and plot escalation, this comedy of manners takes the somewhat cliché plot of dueling neighbors and turns it completely on its head. The end result is an absurdist tragicomedy that is just as insightful as it is entertaining,
The plot is simple: Two couples, different as can be, take part in the usual snide gossip regarding those who live next door. But when a confrontation centered around Inga and Baldvin’s tree, which is casting a shadow on their neighbors Konrad and Eybjorg’s porch, comes to a boiling point, things go from childish to catastrophic.
Perhaps the most effective tool at work in director Hafsteinn Gunnar Sigurdsson’s picture is his commitment to playing it straight. There are no obvious winks to the audience or catchy one-liners. He presents the material in a straightforward, deadpan fashion, and his ability to keep the tone so consistently grounded between the dramatic and the comedic is what makes this such an experience to behold. This is a movie you’re going to want to see with an audience.
As outrageous as it is, you may be surprised at just how much Under the Tree has to say about human behavior. We’re given a small glimpse into the lives of each of the characters involved, a development that colors the way we feel about their individual actions in unexpected ways. It sends a clear message about the ways we occasionally misdirect our pain. We sometimes let anger get the best of us, often to our own detriment. It’s a lesson that audience members will certainly take away – albeit with a deliciously sour kick.
Under the Tree is opening at Miami Dade College’s Tower Theater Miami on July 6. For more information, click here.