A classic Icelandic fantasy loosely based on the Grimm Brothers’ fairytales, and Björk’s debut as a film actress.
After Katla and Margit’s mother is stoned and then burnt for practicing witchcraft, the sisters set out on a pilgrimage and meet the recently widowed peasant Jóhann. Having bewitched the man, the elder sister Katla becomes mistress in his house, making Jóhann’s little son Jónas unhappy about it. As Jónas develops a friendly relationship with the younger Margit, Katla is thinking how to get rid of the boy at any cost.
Featuring Icelandic landscapes and tight-lipped characters, as well as the clash of Christian beliefs with paganism, Nietzchka Keene’s The Juniper Tree brings to mind such masterpieces of Nordic cinema as Ingmar Bergman’s The Virgin Spring or Victor Sjöström’s The Outlaw and His Wife, which is rather surprising bearing in mind that it is shot by an American. Trained in linguistics and the Old Icelandic language before turning to cinema, Keene always felt a certain affiliation with traditional Scandinavian culture. The Juniper Tree was a success at the time of its release, predicting a great future to the director—which was not to be realized, as Keene died at the age of 52 from cancer, having made only two more pictures.
The Juniper Tree
Director: Nietzchka Keene
Iceland, 1990. 78 min. 16+