In the (Art)House showcases our most anticipated arthouse films,
“What now for a director this eye-poppingly talented? It would be unwise to miss the answer.”
Danny Leigh, FINANCIAL TIMES
A White, White Day is currently screening at Palace Cinemas.
The Icelandic landscape is harsh and unforgiving, and director Hlynur Palmason shows this from the very first frame of A White, White Day. We see an SUV driving down a winding country highway, taking slow and precarious turns through thick layers of fog. The action is relatively banal, with the setting given no context by way of music, narration, or onscreen characters. Suddenly, the car tries to take a turn too late, skids and promptly tumbles over the highway barrier to the unseen depths below. The camera merely stops, forcing us to confront this scene of spontaneous tragedy.
Palmason seems to take pleasure in creating subdued tableaus of the tiny Scandinavian country’s perpetually rugged terrain, its endurance despite human intervention or indiscretion. Ingimundur (Ingvar Sigurdsson), the film’s stoic protagonist, is one of these people. His efforts to renovate and weatherproof an old steel barn are depicted in course of a unique montage early in the film, showing the barn battered by everything from wind, to rain, to snow. Quickly, it’s revealed that Ingimundur’s late wife was, in fact, the unlucky driver of the car from the film’s opening scene. Now widowed for two years, Ingimundur is on extended leave from his job as a local policeman, spending his days playing football, entertaining his affectionate granddaughter, and begrudgingly attending legally-mandated counselling sessions.
The first half of the film focuses largely on Ingimundur’s slow routine: visiting his policeman coworkers, telling scary bedtime stories to his grandaughter, installing glass panelling at the barn house, and so on. Yet, despite the gentle pacing, all of these actions are deftly tied into the unravelling of a striking and subtle investigative thriller story. Spurned by a forlorn search through a box of his wife’s possessions, Ingimundur begins to question his perfect mental image of his deceased spouse upon seeing a photo that rouses suspicions of an extramarital affair. It’s from here that Palmason probes interesting thematic discussions. Ingimundur, the image of repressed trauma concealed beneath a gruff exterior, wields a certain kind of hyper-masculine rage. He is complex, trying to present himself simply, and it’s in his intermittent outbursts and outlandish reactions that his character’s depth is hinted at. Such an impenetrable façade finds the perfect foil in Ingimundur’s eight-year-old granddaughter, Salka (Ída Mekkín Hlynsdóttir). Theirs is the film’s most compelling relationship, revealing the nuanced-yet-strained love that Ingimundur can express while being in denial of his grief in every other facet of life. The especially strong performances of both Sigurdsson and Hlynsdóttir are what keep A White, White Day so grounded, propelling its engaging examination of emotion, grief and loss.
The film has a subtle luring effect and once captivated the visceral world of A White, White Day bursts through, rewarding its audience with a powerful conclusion.
This post was written by Patrick McKenzie, a freelance writer and staff member at Palace Norton St.