Essential Cinema: New 4K Restoration
The Juniper Tree
Directed by Nietzchka Keene
“Distinctive, ambitious and genuine.”—Kevin Thomas, Los Angeles Times
An unsung talent in her lifetime, director, professor, and Fulbright scholar Nietzchka Keene’s stark, stunning debut feature, The Juniper Tree, is loosely based on a Grimm Brothers fairy tale of the same name, and stars Björk in her first on-screen performance. The film premiered to glowing reviews at the Sundance Film Festival in 1991, but Keene tragically died in 2004.
Set in medieval Iceland, The Juniper Tree follows Margit (Björk in a riveting performance) and her older sister Katla (Bryndis Petra Bragadottir) as they flee for safety after their mother is burned to death for witchcraft. Finding shelter and protection with Johan (Valdimar Orn Fygenring), and his resentful young son, Jonas (Geirlaug Sunna Pormar), the sisters help form an impromptu family unit that’s soon strained by Katla’s burgeoning sorcery. Photographed entirely on location in the stunning landscapes of Iceland in spectacular black-and-white by Randy Sellars, The Juniper Tree is a deeply atmospheric film, evocative of Carl Theodor Dreyer’s Day of Wrath and Ingmar Bergman’s The Virgin Spring, filled with indelible waking dream sequences (courtesy of legendary experimental filmmaker Pat O’Neill). A potent allegory for misogyny and its attendant tragedies, The Juniper Tree is a major rediscovery for art house audiences. 1991, U.S/Iceland, 4K DCP, 78 minutes. Recommended for 13+.