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Review: The Juniper Tree

Went to Metrograph to catch a screening of The Juniper Tree (a.k.a. the big screen debut of a pre-Sugarcubes Björk). This is one of those charmingly simple, low-key period dramas (see also: Rashomon, The Seventh Seal, Sauna, The Witch); director Nietzchka Keene makes the most of her limited budget by forgoing the lavish costumes and elaborate sets you’d expect to find in a work of medieval fantasy, instead emphasizing characterization and theme. Which isn’t to say that the film lacks breathtaking imagery: the camera drinks in the vast, expansive sprawl of the Icelandic countryside, making it appear harsh, barren, and hostile—an external representation of the desperation of its protagonists, a pair of orphaned witches attempting to escape religious persecution. The monochromatic cinematography and somewhat languid pace create a surreal, hypnotic, dreamlike atmosphere that perfectly fits the bleak tone of the Brothers Grimm-inspired story. All in all, it’s a genuine art house gem, and I hope that this new restoration earns it the recognition it so richly deserves.

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