Review: A WHITE, WHITE DAY, Time Exposes Terrifying Wounds
Icelandic film has a reputation of setting tones similar to the country's landscape: sparse in character, frequently cold, often impenetrable and inscrutible, but with seething passion and rage beneath its ice. Maybe this is why their thrillers and family dramas are so good. And make a combination of those two genres, and you have a highly uncomforatable, deeply distrurbing, and yet wholly understandable story of one man's anger that can no longer be contained.
Such is A White, White Day, Hlynur Palmason's second feature film. Starring Ingvar Sigurdsson (Jar City, Justice League), against a backdrop of remoteness, pain, stoicism, and the fires that burn beneath the veneer of calm, it's a mystery wrapped in a thriller wrapped in a family tragedy, that feels both foreign and like it could have been made in your own home.
Ingimundur (Sigurdsson), a semi-retired police detective, has been in counselling in the months following the suddent death of his wife in a car crash. He takes comfort in remodelling a new house and looking after his grandaughter Salka (Ida Mekkín Hlynsdóttir), with whom he has a strong bond. He's not a man to express his feelings at the best of times; but when he finds photos that suggest his wife might have been having an affair, he finds that he might not be able to carry on as normal.
This is a case where time does not heal all wounds; or at least, it reveals wounds one didn't even know one had. Ingimundur finds a certain stoic comfort in his routine of fixing his home and looking after his granddaughter; he only tolerates his therapy sessions. But it is that routine that Palmason shows us, that makes this thriller unique as such: most of the time, we just see that, time: as it passes in Ingimundur's life. Even as he puts the pieces together of his late wife's infidelity, he still goes about life, this routine occasionbally broken by him trailing the alleged lover, or watching old sex tapes of him and his wife, as if looking for clues.
But of course, all these feelings building of confusion, resentment, grief, and most especially anger, are boudn to explode. And since we've been presented with mostly routine with hints of what his relationships are currently or previously, once the anger does come out, it's such a violent explosion that it needs no standard music accompaniment or fancy camera angles to heighten it; it alone is startling and frightening in its raw power.
Sigurdsson is one of the those actors that you both wish was more well-known because he's so damn good, and I'm also glad that he's developed his craft away from blockbusters (with the odd exception). He communicates volumes with a single look or gesture. As each person around Ingimundur - his work colleagues, his daughter, his son-in-law - give him advice, confesses their own problems, impose upon him, insist upon him, each moment is planted like a small seed that compounds until his explosions flatte everything in his wake.
Palmason uses some techniques of slow cinema to compound the feeling of this strange passage of time - long shots of the house through the days and weeks, as Ingimundur's mental state begins to crack, and yet he still goes about his life. The world does not stop when one is in grief and pain, and even one's lfie doesn't stop - but it all eats away, and all the poisons that lurk in the mud and snow will hatch out.
A White, White Day is a masterful examination of how a person can slowly unravel, how the pressures of daily life, extraordinary events, grief, and pain can multiply and result in astonishing and terrible acts, even in the face of those we love. A slow-burn thriller that will leave you shocked and surprised as it creeps under your skin.
A White, White Day will be available in the USA as of April 17th via Film Movement's Virtual Cinema. Visit Film Movement website for information on where and how to watch the film.