A loose adaptation of the Brothers Grimm fairy tale, Nietzchka Keene’s 1993 Sundance favorite The Juniper Tree has returned in shiny new 4k restoration from Arbelos Films. Katla (Bryndis Petra Bragadóttir) and Margit (Björk!) are sisters in medieval Iceland whose mother (Guðrún Gísladóttir) has just been burned for witchcraft. They soon find a new home when Katla becomes the new wife of widower Jóhann (Valdimar Örn Flygenring), much to the annoyance of his son Jonas (Geirlaug Sunna Pormar). Not aiding matters is that Margit is beginning to see visions of their mother, and that the witchcraft which got her burned may run in the family.
Shot in glorious black-and-white in unforgiving terrain, The Juniper Tree is a mood piece first and foremost, with a sense of natural mysticism not unlike a Peter Weir film. The narrative takes its time, but life probably didn’t move at breakneck speed in medieval Iceland, either. It also speaks to how fundamental fairy tales are that without much tweaking, Keene’s storyline could be transposed to, say, modern-day Iran by a director like Asghar Farhadi without losing much of anything in translation. Meanwhile, between restoring The Juniper Tree, Dennis Hopper’s The Last Movie, and Béla Tarr’s colossus Sátántangó, Arbelos is carving out a niche as a sort of an alternate-universe Criterion Collection.
Not rated. Opens Friday at the Roxie Theater.