Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Björk Marathon: The Juniper Tree

1986 was a magical period for Björk. She gave birth to her son, Sindri Eldon Thórsson, and she married and moved in with Sindri's father, Þór Eldon. On the day that Sindri was born, Einar Örn (as well as Ásmundur Jónsson and Dóra Einarsdóttir, all three who originally owned Gramm Records, which went bankrupt around this time) founded a new business, the (still alive and thriving) record label and publishing company, Smekkleysa (translated literally to "tastelessness"), which would later be renamed Bad Taste. It was on this same day that The Sugarcubes was also born!

Called Sykurmolarnir in Icelandic, the original band members of The Sugarcubes were Björk (vocals), Einar Örn (vocals), Siggi (on drums), Björk's then-husband Þór (on guitar), Einar Melax (on keyboard), and Bragi (on bass).

Around that summer, just right after having a baby, a new husband, a new record label, and a new band, Björk starred in her first-ever acting role in The Juniper Tree.


Margit and her older sister, Katla, flee their homeland in Iceland after their mother is killed for practicing witchcraft. Needing a place to stay, Katla casts a spell over a young farmer named Jóhann which makes him fall in love with her, ensuring the wellbeing of herself and Margit. Jóhann's son, Jóhas, sees through Katla's plan and pleads for his father to make her go away. To help Jóhas in his struggle, Margit's mother appears to Margit in visions and provides a magic amulet of protection for the boy. Will Jóhas be able to rid his family of Katla or will she continue to control them with her witchcraft?

My Review:

This movie really is as grim as the Brothers Grimm story it is based off of. Everything about it is so brooding, from the depressing storyline to the stark, cold, and rugged Iceland terrain where this film was shot. It's also in black and white, which further enhances that dark mood of the story. Obviously, if it weren't for Björk, I doubt that this movie would have seen the light of day. It was originally filmed in 1986, but because of financial issues with the editing, it didn't get screened until 1990 (for the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival), was released on VHS in 1995, and only got released on DVD in 2002. The Juniper Tree is an indie fantasy, fairy tale, art house drama with the slowest pacing of a movie that you'll ever see, but the cinematography is pretty decent, the story is loyal to the original fairy tale, and Björk (as Margit) is clearly a natural actress. This is her first acting role, and she makes it seem as if she has been doing acting for ages. The rest of the cast are also natural and convincing in the roles they play. The film's biggest flaw though that makes it not that enjoyable is that frankly, it's boring, and it's not nearly as enchanting and magical as it should and could have been. But granted, this was a painfully low budgeted movie, and at least it makes up for it with the cinematography, decent script, pleasant cast, and of course, Björk. And yes, she sings in this too. The film is so short, being only an hour and fifteen minutes, so it's not too much of a time waster. It is worth seeing if you're a hardcore Björk fan, or if you're curious about seeing the first movie she's ever been in long before she'd star in the movie that she's most known and famous for, Dancer in the Dark. The Juniper Tree is no Dancer in the Dark, but it's fine as is, and that's good enough for me!

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