Director: Hlynur Palmason
Writer: Hlynur Palmason
Starring: Ingvar Sigurdsson, ĺda Mekkín Hlynsdóttir, Hilmir Snær Guðnason
In a remote Icelandic town, off-duty police chief Ingimundur (Sigurdsson) begins to suspect that his recently deceased wife was having an affair with a local man. Gradually his obsession for finding the truth accumulates and eventually begins to endanger both himself and his loved ones.
The simple but relatable concepts of love, grief and revenge can of course take many forms when depicted in film, and when told in the usual dark and subtle way that is the norm for Icelandic films, it comes as no surprise that A White, White Day is a deeply engrossing character-driven edge-of-your-seat thriller.
The concept at the heart of A White, White Day is certainly nothing new, but while mainstream ‘thrillers’ would often resort to conventional genre clichés and therefore be quite predictable and rely on performances and creative visuals to elevate the drama, this film keeps thing suitably low-key and subtle – which is summed by the film’s opening scene that is solely a lengthy tracking shot of a car driving along a remote Icelandic road which ends in the car simply going off the road. It is the narrative’s tendency to hold its cards very close to its chest that means we the viewer are never quite on terms with what our protagonist is going to do, and so this unpredictability only serves to make the narrative more compelling. To add to this the classic Scandinavian approach of having a subtle and underplayed tone of what unfolds only serves to make the whole thing even more unnerving, and therefore even more engrossing.
The visual style of the film’s opening sequence is maintained throughout, and the static camera allows the stunning, but equally remote and unforgiving Icelandic countryside to be very much a character within its own right that not only makes A White, White Day deeply cinematic, but this also complements the themes of the film as our character plunges into a deep and increasingly lonely descent of madness that is driven by his grief, jealousy and rage after produced by his deeply surprising and devastating discovery.
In one of the opening sequences of the film Ingimundur has an appointment with his councillor, and it is clear that he is still struggling to come to terms with the tragic loss of his wife and is seemingly distracting himself by purchasing an abandoned building (which is the subject of an extended opening shot) and repairing it so that it will be a home of his daughter and granddaughter. However, after his daughter retrieves some items of her late mother’s and gives them to him, it is then that he makes the awful discovery, and the feelings of jealousy and anger then combine with grief, and his actions become increasing determined to seek some kind of vengeance, and so at the same time become increasingly irrational. However, despite resorting to some very questionable (and seemingly out of character) actions, within the context of the narrative these do feel justified – and though we may struggle to like our protagonist because of some of the things he does, the film gives us the opportunity to understand them, and so we cannot help but find the narrative compelling. As Ingimundur Ingvar Sigurdsson delivers a fiercely committed performance, and captures perfectly his character’s deep internal rage and conflict.
These feelings of internal rage are perfectly summed up in one extremely powerful and memorable scene in which he asks his brother if he ever cheated on his wife, and his brother casually replies that he has a few times and that his wife may well have cheated on him too, and Ingimundur replies with almost disbelief at his brother’s attitude. What then makes things worse is that Ingimundur’s granddaughter then turns up and talks about a classical piece and how it’s composer went mad when his wife cheated on him – Ingimundur’s brother and granddaughter them sing a classical piece with increasing volume while Ingimundur looks into the distance, almost oblivious to what they are doing. This is all captured in one continuous take, and scenes like this are a poignant reminder of some of the unique things the visual medium of cinema can do.
Indeed, A White, White Day is filled with powerful verbal and visual metaphors that provide an existential element to the narrative and make it about far more than just getting revenge. Initially certain shots and scenes may seem to have nothing to do with the main narrative, but when analysed on a deeper level it is clear that they represent the film’s overall examination of the human condition and its fragility. This is a film that certainly contains some dark and shocking moments, but it is actually at its more quiet and contemplative moments that A White, White Day is at its most striking and powerful – this is a film where the more the viewer puts in the more rewards they shall reap, and for that reason it is one of the most compelling and unforgettable dramas of 2020.
In traditional Scandinavian fashion A White, White Day takes a seemingly simple concept and turns it into a deeply cinematic experience that is a philosophical and existential examination of some extremely relatable themes and ideas – the result is one of the best cinematic dramas of 2020.
At time of writing A White, White Day is available to stream on Curzon Home Cinema