A White, White Day
2020, NR, 108 min. Directed by Hlynur Palmason. Starring Ingvar Sigurdsson, Ída Mekkín Hlynsdóttir, Hilmir Snær Guðnason, Sara Dögg Ásgeirsdóttir, Björn Ingi Hilmarsson, Elma Stefania Agustsdottir, Haraldur Stefansson.
REVIEWED By Richard Whittaker, Fri., April 24, 2020
Landslides are part of life in Iceland. The ground appears static, but one tectonic shift, one drop of meltwater in the right place, and whole rockfaces tumble away, leaving carnage and blockage. In A White, White Day - the second feature from writer/director Hlynur Palmason, and Iceland’s Oscar entry for last year – they’re a quiet subtext of collapse and grief.
Ingimundur (Sigurdsson) isn’t in a mood to deal with external nonsense. Recently widowed, this small-town cop and farmer goes through grief counselling because he’s been told that’s what he’s supposed to do, even though all it does is antagonize him. He gets up because it has to be done. He looks after his granddaughter, Salka (Hlynsdóttir), because he cares for her, even if that love is sometimes brusque and misguided, like a totally unsuitable bedtime story he half-terrifies her with. He’s resolute and stoic, because what else is there to do but keep going on. His patience for foolishness – which was clearly limited even before this – evaporates as he discovers that some things he took for granted about his late wife weren’t as true as he thought.
Like the rock that Ingimundur pushes off the road and down the mountainside while out on a casual drive, A White, White Day gathers and loses momentum at its own pace. Time is almost an abstraction – a byproduct of both the remoteness and Ingimundur ‘s well-contained grief. Palmason captures its duration through the constructive use of montages – most especially a catalog of shots of the slow restoration of Ingimundur’s farm house. The first half of the film is a character study, not the vengeance drama that is slowly exposed. After all, if the audience cannot understand exactly who Ingimundur is, then they can’t understand what drives him. That’s always a challenge when it comes to a character who does not emote, and so Palmason opens him up slowly, quietly, and through externalities. The time-lapse shots of the farm are matched for emotional power by another montage, this time of items flashing through Ingimundur’s mind during a conversation.
It’s a rare moment of emotional insight that balances out Ingimundur’s introspection, so perfectly captured by Sigurdsson. He is a character defined by the negative space around him, and Palmason lets Sigurdsson crack the character open by distraction – the audience learns just as much, if not more, about him when he is not the center of attention as they do by his actions. It’s in how he states blankly while others talk, how he sits at the most distant point on a table. Much like Peter Fonda in Ulee’s Gold (one of the great, underrated performances of the 1990s) Sigurdsson concentrates on pulling himself in, rather than taking up space. There’s a restrained minimalism that becomes captivating, as Ingimundur tries to work out what to do with his grief. Not that he calls it such: For him, it’s tiredness, and Palmason’s purest insight is understanding that men like Ingimundur aren’t emotionally stunted, or a character defined through a simple trope like toxic masculinity. Instead, he’s the river who runs quiet and deep, and sometimes dark.
A White, White Day won’t lend itself to a boisterous Hollywood adaptation in the same way that its Norwegian counterpart, In Order of Disappearance could be turned into the sardonically humorous Liam Neeson vehicle, Cold Pursuit. Instead, it’s slowly built emotional resonances, artfully and simply constructed with few of the common conceits of modern filmmaking – no score, minimal camera movement – while concentrating on the spaces in between.
A White, White Day is currently available through Film Movement's initiative whereby streaming rentals can be bought through virtual ticket booths for local art house cinemas. Choose from:
• Violet Crown (tickets here