Nietzchka Keene, Iceland, 1990, 78 min., b/w
NEW 4K RESTORATION
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 Brothers Grimm 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 and led Keene to further direct Heroine of Hell (1996) starring Catherine Keener and Barefoot to Jerusalem (2008), the latter completed after her tragically early death 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, and 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.
New restoration by the Wisconsin Center for Film & Theater Research and The Film Foundation, with funding provided by the George Lucas Family Foundation.