There are ways to break up with grace, with consideration for the other party, with efforts made on both sides to make matters as painless as possible considering the circumstances. Then there is the sad tale of Atli Baldvinsson (Steinþór Hróar Steinþórsson), whose wife Agnes (Lára Jóhanna Jónsdóttir) walks in on him reliving the joy of a home-made porn tape starring him and their next-door neighbour.
Understandably, Agnes throws Atli out and wants custody of their daughter Ása, but having moved back in with his parents Baldvin and Inga (Sigurður Sigurjónsson and Edda Björgvinsdóttir), rather than attempting to resolve the situation amicably Atli is instead determined to be stubborn, awkward and confrontational.
A series of traits he has inherited from his bitter mother, Inga is engaged in a private war with their own neighbours, Konráð and Eybjörg (Þorsteinn Bachmann and Selma Björnsdóttir), sparked by Eybjörg’s request for Inga to tame the out-of-control tree casting shade over their back garden and Inga’s dislike of Eybjörg’s dog Askur.
Directed by Hafsteinn Gunnar Sigurðsson from a script co-written with Huldar Breiðfjörð, Under the Tree (Undir trénu) shines some light on the Scandi noir genre, so long as the offending tree does not get in the way, an escalating black comedy of bad manners as grudges escalate to petty behaviour, property damage and violence.
Atli’s temper getting out of hand, he expects others to make concessions even though he is the one who created the situation, a manchild who doesn’t look to modify his behaviour, continuing to drink and get stoned even as he Agnes pleads for Ása’s needs to come first.
A subdued examination of the resentments of an apparently comfortable suburb which was Iceland’s entry for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 90th Academy Awards although the film was not eventually nominated, Under the Tree remains for the most part in the shade, low-key despite the provocations, as repressed as the characters struggling with their situation and emotions.
Under the Tree is on limited release from Friday 10th August