August 10, 2020 A White, White Day (Movie Review)
Initially released in its homeland in 2019, Iceland’s official Oscar submission A White, White Day makes its way to North America on Tuesday, August 11, 2020. A gritty Nordic noir about sorrow, revenge, and unconditional love, Film Movement is set to deliver the film to DVD (which includes the bonus 10-minute film Seven Boats) and Digital (iTunes, Amazon, Vudu).
From acclaimed writer-director Hlynur Pálmason (Seven Boats short 2014, Winter Brothers 2017) comes A White, White Day (Hvítur, hvítur dagur in its original Icelandic), an Official Selection and festival favorite at Cannes and TIFF. The film stars the exceptional Ingvar Sigurdsson (Everest 2015, Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald 2018) as the distraught Ingimundur, an off-duty police chief and recent widower who is struggling to overcome grief. Forced to undergo therapy if he hopes to return to his job, a stone-faced Ingimundur confesses that the only light in his life is his spirited little granddaughter, Salka (Ída Mekkín Hlynsdóttir).
Out of love and a need for distraction, Ingimundur engages himself in a renovation project on a home that he hopes to leave to Salka and her mother, Elín (Elma Stefanía Ágústsdóttir: Case series, I Remember You 2017), and by default, Elín’s boyfriend, Stefán (Haraldur Stefansson: Jitters 2010, Let Me Fall 2018). Splitting his time between preparing the house for its new inhabitants and tending to his ray of sunshine, he effectively avoids facing his depression. Tragically, when the dam finally breaks the flood will threaten the safety and stability of Ingimundur and everything he holds dear.
At 109 minutes and presented in Icelandic with English subtitles, A White, White Day also features the acting talents of Björn Ingi Hilmarsson (The Deep 2012, Ófærð series), Hilmir Snær Guðnason (101 Reykjavik 2000, White Night Wedding 2008), Sigurður Sigurjónsson (Rams 2015, Under the Tree 2017), Arnmundur Ernst Björnsson (Eleven Men Out 2005, Shetland series), Þór Tulinius (I Remember You 2017, The Valhalla Murders series), Sara Dögg Ásgeirsdóttir (Stella Blómkvist series, Pity the Lovers 2019), and more.
The heavily nuanced, often abstract arthouse approach of A White, White Day is a languid journey into the mind of a grieving widower. Unlike its American counterparts, which often seek to fill every available moment with superfluous dialogue, this is a film that is especially careful with its use of words. Opening to a time lapse display of the seasons passing through the mountains, not a single word is spoken for over five minutes. Consider this foreshadowing, as the story surrounds itself in a languid melancholia that builds until its true crux is revealed nearly 40 minutes later.
Utilizing the gorgeous but often gray landscape of Iceland as a mirror for Ingimundur’s emotional unraveling, the overall experience relies heavily on its lead actor and the inspired visuals from its cinematographer, Maria von Hausswolff (Parents 2016, Winter Brothers 2017). A rock crashing into the sea, a herd of Icelandic horses munching in a field, the changing seasons painted across the mountains, these are all moments that relay a message while maintaining the film’s grave seriousness and poignant mood. This is bolstered by an elegant Classical score from Edmund Finnis, who opts to be as bold as the landscape.
However, Pálmason is careful not to make his dramatic tale overwrought with suffering. Much of Ingimundur’s battle is internal, a word of his struggles never spoken. And there are certainly moments that break the tension, particularly two rather amusing scenes that perfectly display Ingimundur’s breakdown. The first involves upbeat psychiatrist Georg (Tulinius), who rubs his patient the wrong way and ends up, well, disconnected. Though the comedic gold, in the most uncomfortable and awkward sense, comes when a switch is flipped and Ingimundur takes on his boss (Sigurjónsson) and co-worker, Hrafn (Björnsson). The three men pile onto one another like high school boys, and that’s before a can of mace gets involved. It’s completely ludicrous; a humorous moment that you will feel guilty for enjoying.
All of this said, it’s truly no shock that Sigurdsson received Cannes Critics’ Week Award for Best Actor for his performance in the film. Delicately cycling through the five stages of grief, his Ingimundur is withdrawn, in denial, and eventually dramatically shifts toward violence, propelling the film into some borderline revenge thrills as he struggles to reach acceptance. Sigurdsson’s performance is beautifully nuanced throughout, allowing viewers to witness his pain rather than to have it spelled out in obvious dialogue. There’s something to be said for a man who can telepath his feelings onto the screen without so much as saying a word, and in this Sigurdsson proves that he is an exceptional talent worthy of recognition.
Furthermore, the chemistry between Sigurdsson and young Hlynsdóttir feels real and organic; they are fully believable as doting grandfather and dedicated granddaughter. Even when they spar it feels real and not scripted. While Sigurdsson is a truly magnificent actor, little Hlynsdóttir is a shining light, as well. Her Salka is spirited and sassy, a youngster who knows she has her grandfather wrapped around her finger but rarely holds that information against him. And her random confessions, well, they will force a smile onto even the most stern-faced viewer. Considering the film marks Hlynsdóttir’s debut, it’s a promising one that suggests great things to come from this wonderful little sprite.
But despite the endless reasons why you should check out A White, White Day, the fact remains that it is such a slow build full of abstract departures, and mired in such heartbreak, that it was never intended to be a film for everyone. In addition to an obvious theme of loss sits a debate on infidelity, and whether it is natural to stray from your life-long partner from time to time. Can one person truly be ‘enough’ for you for the remainder of your life, or are we all doomed to shelter our darkest secrets beneath gray skies? It’s this question that may lead some, like Ingimundur, to graveside interrogations.
Beautifully brought to the screen by an exceptional cast and crew, and born of a tale that is drowning in raw emotion, A White, White Day does Iceland proud. For this, Cryptic Rock gives A White, White Day 4.5 of 5 stars.