THE JUNIPER TREE
It’s Grimm up north
RELEASED OUT NOW! 1993 | 15 | Blu-ray
Director Nietzchka Keene
Cast Björk, Bryndis Petra Bragadóttir,
Valdimar Örn Flygenring
If you need someone to play a woman with mystical powers, Björk’s an obvious fit. Robert Eggers clearly thought so when casting The Northman – but someone beat him to it by three decades.
Loosely adapted from a Brothers Grimm tale, the film transplants the action from Germany to medieval Iceland. It’s a dark affair, featuring a shocking death and a dash of cannibalism. Björk (making her acting debut) is Margit, one of two sisters left destitute after their mother was burned as a witch. When Katla wins the heart of widower Jóhann, they get a new home. But Jóhann’s son won’t accept his stepmother…
Ingmar Bergman’s The Virgin Spring is an obvious touchstone. Shot in black and white, against a forbidding landscape of volcanic rock, it’s a film which combines naturalism with the mythic – and ambiguity. It’s open to question if Katla seduces Jóhann by magical means, and whether Margit’s sightings of their mum are authentic visions. A work of stillness and deliberate pacing, imbued with a bleak, chilly beauty.
Extras The highlight is a 2019 interview with cinematographer Randy Sellars (29 minutes), who talks about the challenges of shooting in Iceland. There’s a 2002 interview with the director (15 minutes); she also talks over four minutes of off-cuts. You get three of her shorts: two (four minute/ seven minutes) are experimental, while “Hinterland” (25 minutes), a period tale about a woman taking in her orphaned niece, makes The Juniper Tree look like a laugh riot.
Two archive rarities date from the ‘20s: “The Witch’s Fiddle”, a short shot by the Cambridge University Film Society (seven minutes), and an educational piece on Iceland’s geography/culture (22 minutes). Plus: commentary by an academic; trailer; booklet. Ian Berriman
A shot showing a dead body underwater was achieved using a wax head in an aquarium, smeared with fish food.
Combines naturalism with the mythic – and ambiguity