Bjork in The Juniper Tree out Monday 23rd January 2023 on Blu-ray from The BFI

Film Review – The Juniper Tree (1990)


One of the less well known tales from The Brothers Grimm, The Juniper Tree is a tale which is hard to stomach due to its obvious slants on the family dynamic. A story of two girls, outcast after their mother is stoned to death after being accused of being a witch doesn’t seem to be the kind of light hearted fairy tale most audiences would like.

However, Nietzchka Keene’s take on what is a darker tale than Disney would ever dare tackle becomes something all the more relevant when put into the hands of a woman filmmaker. The characters from the Brothers’ story are given far more life than they may have been allowed originally, with no sign of the archetypical characters which one may expect. Instead, Keene questions the perspective which is so often seen through a male gaze and fleshes out her arthouse masterpiece.

The Juniper Tree is also notable and one that may draw in more of an audience because of its inclusion of Björk in her feature film debut. Starring as Margit alongside Bryndis Petra Bragadóttir as Katla, her older sister, they are seen as a pair fleeing from the oppression of male hypocrisy rather than innocent children trying to find a home.

A story which may be considered more of a unique experience because of how little its most famous star has dealt with cinema, The Juniper Tree ends up offering far more than just a novelty.

As the sisters find themselves having to make ends meet, Katla turns to the magic that her mother taught her in order to get a husband so that they will be safe. For even though they may seem all powerful and dangerous to the men in their area, their powers merely help to keep them alive. Powers which seem less important and effective than still having to rely on male company for protection.
However, once Katla bewitches Johann (Valdimar Örn Flygenring) after the been left to deal with the death of his own wife then the trouble really starts as Jóhann’s son, Jónas (Geirlaug Sunna Þormar) doesn’t take to well to having his mother replaced.

A stunning 4K restoration, The Juniper Tree comes with all of Keene’s short films, interviews and outtakes. A film that should be seen not just out of curiosity for its most famous star, but experienced because of its bold voice and strong vision.

Drama, Fantasy | Iceland, 1990 | 15 | Blu-Ray | 23rd January 2023 (UK) | BFI | Dir.Nietzchka Keene | Björk, Bryndis Petra Bragadóttir, Valdimar Örn Flygenring, Geirlaug Sunna Þormar | Buy