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Under the Tree 2017

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Two Families. One Tree. A Bloody Mess.

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About the Under the Tree 💬

When Baldvin & Inga's next door neighbors complain that a tree in their backyard casts a shadow over their sundeck, what starts off as a typical spat between neighbors in the suburbs unexpectedly and violence spirals out of control...

Agnes throws Atli out and does not want him to see their daughter Ása 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 neighbors' deck. As Atli fights for the right to see his daughter, the dispute with the neighbors intensifies - property is damaged, pets mysteriously go missing, security cameras are being installed and there is a rumor that the neighbor was seen with a chainsaw.


Q: Where did the idea for the film originate, and was it based on any true incidents?

Hafsteinn Gunnar Sigurðsson: Co-writer Huldar Breiðfjörð and I started talking about this idea around a decade ago. We both were fascinated by the idea of making a film about neighborly disputes. What excited me 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 was 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 have 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 are going to want to get rid of that tree. Especially since we don't get that much sunshine in Iceland. It's the kind of head to head dilemma that unfortunately is hard to solve in a diplomatic way.

Q: Was there something about the everyday nature of the conflict that attracted you?

Hafsteinn Gunnar Sigurðsson: I have always been drawn to the mundane in my films and yes, I do feel 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 I believe this is one of the elements that connect our human existence. I found it 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.

Q: Were there any films that provided visual inspiration for Under the Tree?

Hafsteinn Gunnar Sigurðsson: There are always other films and filmmakers who influence your creative process but the trick is to hide them so they don't become obvious. I hope I managed to do so on this one. There were some films I discussed with the film's DOP Monika Lenczewska, which included works by Michael Haneke, Joachim Trier, Ruben Östlund, David Lynch, Lynne Ramsay, Derek Cianfrance to name a few. As you can see from that list, it was a lot of very different filmmakers and the influence on our film wasn't a direct one. What we did was use their work to find common ground in our conversation as we defined our vision for the script.

Q: Do you see the film as a cautionary tale for our time, about what can happen when coexistence and compromise start to fail?

Hafsteinn Gunnar Sigurðsson: There are some terrible things in the air these days and I think 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 are risking the future of our children. But still, we can't do it. How fucked up is that? It's this terrible individualistic way of thinking and living which is indeed encouraged by our capitalistic society.

What happened during the development of this script is that I tried to open up the narrative, making it receptive to different interpretations of those ideas. 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 - I think those stories share some things in common with the issues we can have with our neighbors.

Under the Tree Movie Details 🎥

Directed by

Hafsteinn Gunnar Sigurðsson

Writing Credits

Hafsteinn Gunnar Sigurðsson (Screenplay)

Huldar Breiðfjörð (Story and Screenplay)


Steinþór Hróar Steinþórsson

Edda Björgvinsdóttir

Sigurður Sigurjónsson

Lára Jóhanna Jónsdóttir

Þorsteinn Bachmann

Selma Björnsdóttir

Dóra Jóhannsdóttir

Sigrídur Sigurpálsdóttir Scheving

Music by

Daníel Bjarnason

Cinematography by

Monika Lenczewska

Genres: Comedy, Drama

Countries: Iceland, Poland, Denmark, Germany, France

Under the Tree Official Trailer

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