Thursday, July 9, 2009

The Juniper Tree (1990)
ICELAND --- fantasy

Dir: Nietzchka Keene

Fairy tales have served as the inspiration for many fantastic films and even modern literature (Harry Potter anyone?). As we well know, The Brothers Grimm enchanted many children with their fairy tales over the centuries. Many of The Brothers Grimm tales have been done over and over again, but every once in awhile, you get a rare gem of something from their collective like the film "The Juniper Tree".

In this film loosely based on the Grimm tale of the same name, two sisters Katla (Bryndis Petra Bragadóttir) and Margit (Björk Guðmundsdóttir in her acting debut), flee a village when their mother is found drowned for being a witch. The eldest sister finds a man named Jóhann (Valdimar Örn Flygenring) who is widowed and his young son Jónas to take care of. The youngest sister begins to have visions of whom she believes is the ghost of her mother. Soon the boy begins to distrust the eldest sister, eventually learning her true nature as a witch and her deceptive intentions to seduce her father with her magic.

Margit befriends Jónas as they confide in each other. He shows her the grave of his mother, and she has delusional visions of her own mother. As the film progresses, Jónas slowly begins to despise his new stepmother as they come to a final confrontation. In the original Grimm's fairy tale, we get more focus on the widow's wife and her son whom she never sees. It plays almost like a revenge fantasy complete with the recurring Grimm themes of evil stepmothers, and children who are in true great danger. With what we see on the nightly news, what else is new? It also shares some relation to Biblical themes, as in 1 Kings 19: 1-8, after a terrific battle against Queen Jezebel's sorcerers, the prophet Elijah flees under a "Juniper Tree", requesting that the lord put an end to his life; for the wicked queen is after him. An angel subsequently visits him to feed him. The Juniper Tree in essence really could be symbolic of the lord's grace.

In this regard, the film doesn't shy away from the Grimm's themes at all, though it does take liberty with the tale, it sticks fairly true to the theme of the story. As mentioned, there is no divine providence in the film's climax. Having said all that, the Juniper Tree is an elegiac dark fantasy at its best. A decent example art house cinema complete with wonderful black and white cinematography of Iceland. It's definitely one of those film once watched, will stick with you for awhile to think about.