A WHITE, WHITE DAY

★★★★

LOVE, LOSS AND ANGER IN ICELAND

THEATRICAL REVIEW
By Jake Watt
5th July 2020

Most people find cheating to be a rather icky thing to do. No matter how you feel about monogamy, it's pretty awful to lie to your partner and violate their trust by getting involved with someone behind their back. Of course, while most of us would hate to find ourselves in this romantic situation in real life, movies are a much different story, from Diane Lane and Olivier Martinez in the classic infidelity film 'Unfaithful', to Julianne Moore and Amanda Seyfried in the not-so-classic infidelity film 'Chloe'.

'A White, White Day' opens with a Volvo station wagon weaving from side to side on a road. Suddenly, it plunges into a pale mist, through a guardrail and into the sea. Like the sky and mountains which surround the bay where the story takes place - it was shot in the coastal fishing towns of Höfn, Reyðarfjörður and Eskifjörður in the south and east of Iceland - the sea is another character in writer/director Hlynur Pálmason's latest film, providing food, a form of travel... and danger.

A series of disconcerting, time-shifting (it could be days or years) cuts occur of a stark, dual-section house in the Icelandic hinterlands. Eventually, we are introduced to Ingimundur (Ingvar Eggert Sigurðsson, 'Everest'), a retired police chief making repairs and installing a big glass sliding door to make the place habitable for his daughter and her family.

'A WHITE, WHITE DAY' TRAILER

His daughter Elin (Elma Stefania Agustsdottir) and husband Stefan (Haraldur Stefansson) have a freshly-hatched toddler, so Ingimunder's beloved 8-year-old granddaughter, Salka (a terrific Ída Mekkín Hlynsdóttir), spends a lot of time with him. Like all grandfathers, he is mostly her chauffeur, driving the spirited Salka to and from school in his not-so-late model Land Rover.

Ingimundur doesn't talk much, and the first half of the film is especially heavy on ellipses. It's hard to grasp what exactly is going on, which makes it all the more bracing when things start moving. Rummaging through a box of his late wife's old books and photos, Ingimundur learns that she may have had an affair with a younger man, Olgeir (Hilmir Snær Guðnason). His stoic grief over her death turns into simmering rage against the guy who cuckolded him.

Among the things he does is join a soccer team in order to blindside his wife's ex-lover. Sigurdsson gives Ingimundur a King Lear-like fury and royally entitled recklessness. No one is going to stop his misplaced rage, not his callow best friend, his fellow policemen, his granddaughter, or even the therapist he must see regularly on Skype who asks him "have you ever cried because of what happened?"

A small film of big insights, unblinking takes, terse speeches and terser silences, 'A White, White Day' often seems closer in spirit to a ghost story (or even David Lowery's 'A Ghost Story').

The film's title was inspired by an Icelandic proverb suggesting that the dead can communicate with the living on days when the white sky merges with the snowy landscape, and cinematographer Maria von Hausswolff finds a way to mix varying degree of pale blue and off-white, dressing everyone in blues and beiges, with the natural colour and warmth of the country's sunlit landscapes. Rapid editing, sudden diversions in focus and symbolic visuals are in abundance. At one point, Ingimundur throws a small boulder off the highway - von Hausswolff's camera observes the progress of the stone over the course of over a dozen separate shots that last nearly a full minute as it rolls down a cliffside, into the ocean and slowly sinks to the bottom. A pepper spray attack is followed by a close-up of milk slowly seeping across the floor. A discussion about infidelity sees debris on a household table intercut with the wreckage of the fatal accident.

This is not the average domestic drama. Movies about marriage can be bitter and/or perceptive, but it's refreshing to stumble upon one that presents a situation as complicated as Ingimunder's, where a long-term relationship is reframed by uncomfortable new information. A small film of big insights, unblinking takes, terse speeches and terser silences, 'A White, White Day' often seems closer in spirit to a ghost story (or even David Lowery's 'A Ghost Story'). Nothing goes "boo" or rearranges the furniture, but there's an unmissable sense that we're watching a man haunted by a spectre of the woman he thought he knew.

Short on plot but long on atmospherics, Pálmason's film reveals itself as a deeply considered and profound statement about the slippery nature of masculinity, loneliness, anger and the human capacity for love.

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