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Laramie Movie Scope:
Under the Tree

A small dispute spirals out of control

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by Robert Roten, Film Critic
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November 30, 2018 – This tale of a domestic dispute that spirals out of control is like a small scale war that starts with a seemingly small dispute, gradually building to something of frightening intensity, a journey from the mundane to the violent. Some call this a very dark comedy. While some of it is absurd, it doesn't seem funny.

This Icelandic movie, directed by Hafsteinn Gunnar Sigurðsson (“Either Way”) is deeply disturbing on a number of levels. It begins with Atli (played by Steinþór Hróar Steinþórsson) being caught by his wife, Agnes (Lára Jóhanna Jónsdóttir) looking at video of Atli and his old girlfriend, Rakel (Dóra Jóhannsdóttir) having sex at a time prior to his marriage to Agnes. Agnes tells Atli to get out of the house and denies him access to his young daughter.

This dispute between Atli and Agnes, and the related matter of custody of their child, gets ugly in a hurry. Another dispute grows more slowly. Atli, locked out of his house by his angry wife, goes back to live with his parents, who live nearby. There is a dispute between Atli's parents and their neighbors over the size of a tree, and the amount of shade it throws on the property next door.

Both neighbors are dealing with some stress in their lives. Atli's mother, Inga (Edda Björgvinsdóttir) is devastated by the disappearance of one of her sons, Uggi, who is thought to have committed suicide, but his body was never found. Atli's father, Baldvin (Sigurður Sigurjónsson) seems to be the most reasonable person of the bunch, but is gradually overwhelmed by the dispute.

The next door neighbors are the ones complaining about the tree. Eybjorg (Selma Björnsdóttir) has married an older, divorced man, Konrad (Þorsteinn Bachmann). Her biological clock is ticking and the couple is trying to have a baby. Eybjorg likes to sun herself in the back yard, but the neighbor's tree interferes with that.

A series of events conspire to escalate this tree shade dispute. It is not entirely clear at times who is responsible for the escalation of the dispute. At other times, it is very clear who is making the dispute worse. Somebody punctures the tires of Baldvin's car. Someone vandalizes Inga's garden and steals some garden gnomes.

Things get serious when Inga's cat disappears. Inga gets even with a truly outrageous act which is sure to inflame the situation. It does. Konrad gets very angry with Inga and vows revenge. Atli wants nothing to do with this whole dispute, but he gets caught in the middle of it nevertheless.

All of these disputes could easily be settled by rational adults, but emotions get the best of everyone involved. Of all the people involved in this little war, Inga seems to be the one who is most unhinged. Her insults, accusations and actions lead to ever increasing conflicts. Her emotional damage from the loss of her son seems to be partly to blame for her desire to hurt others.

The part of the story that puts Atli in the middle of the dispute over the tree seems a bit contrived to me. It doesn't quite fit into the rest of the story. However, the overall plot of the film is solid and believable. The characters are well defined and the actors are all quite convincing. This film rates a B.

Click here for links to places to buy or rent this movie in digital formats, or to buy the soundtrack, posters, books, even used videos, games, electronics and lots of other stuff. I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.

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Copyright © 2018 Robert Roten. All rights reserved.
Reproduced with the permission of the copyright holder.
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Robert Roten can be reached via e-mail at my last name at lariat dot org. [Mailer button: image of letter and envelope]