A WHITE, WHITE DAY: Grief Amid The Fog & Frost

The opening scenes of A White, White Day, the sophomore feature from Icelandic filmmaker Hlynur Palmason (Winter Brothers), are so quiet and still that they send a chill down your spine. Traveling down an empty road on a cold, misty day, we see a crushed steel barrier where a car has gone off the road and over a cliff. We are then introduced to a home in progress, as time-lapse photography shows us how it evolves and ages through so many cycles of day and night.

In the hands of a less skilled director, you might be left bored, waiting around for something to happen or someone to speak, but in the hands of Palmason, this long, silent sequence perfectly sets the stage for the chilling exploration of grief that is to follow.

Unanswered Questions

Ingimundur (Ingvar Sigurdsson), a retired police chief in a remote Icelandic town, is still mourning the death of his beloved wife in a traffic accident two years prior. The epitome of the emotional restraint that we associate with old-fashioned masculinity, he spends his days checking in at the police station, fixing up his old farmhouse, and bonding with his spunky granddaughter, Salka (Ída Mekkín Hlynsdóttir). Yet Ingimundur’s peaceful existence begins to unravel when he uncovers secrets from his wife’s past that lead him to believe she was having an affair.

source: Film Movement

Ingimundur begins to question everything that he took for granted about his wife and their relationship. That he cannot simply ask his wife the questions that torture his psyche fills him with helplessness, forcing him to resort to alternative methods to find the answers he needs. Soon, Ingimundur’s all-encompassing desire to know the truth about the possible affair, and whether or not the other man in his wife’s life played a role in her untimely death, threatens to destroy what little happiness he has left.

Yet despite this central mystery — not to mention the presence of so many woolly sweaters — A White, White Day is not the hardboiled Scandinavian revenge thriller you might expect. Indeed, its quiet, slow-burning examination of grief bears more of a resemblance to Lee Chang-dong’s Secret Sunshine than any of Jo Nesbø’s bloodsoaked crime novels.

Ice and Isolation

The gently bruised heart of the film is the relationship between Ingimundur and Salka; the only time Ingimundur’s craggy face cracks into a genuine smile is when he is with his granddaughter, whether he is telling her a spooky ghost story from his father’s youth or teaching her how to deliver the killing blow to a recently caught fish. Salka’s childish innocence is a perfect foil for Ingimundur’s increasingly jaded old age. Yet Ingimundur’s obsession with discovering the truth about his late wife’s alleged adultery not only puts him in danger but his granddaughter as well. His failure to realize when he has gone too far in his quest for justice has the potential to cause lasting damage to the one truly joyful relationship he has left in his life.

source: Film Movement

Ingvar Sigurdsson’s gripping performance as Ingimundur has deservedly racked up awards from film festivals around the world, including Cannes. It is Sigurdsson’s quiet dignity, which gradually devolves into a barely suppressed rage, that keeps you engaged in A White, White Day even as Palmason’s penchant for peppering his film with pretty nature shots starts to grow a bit tiresome. The foggy Icelandic scenery, eerily captured on 35mm film by cinematographer Maria von Hausswolff (who also worked with Palmason on Winter Brothers), does indeed deserve to be billed directly beneath Sigurdsson as a supporting character in the film, with the remote nature of the world he lives in only emphasizing his loneliness. Yet even the picturesque landscape cannot hold a candle to Sigurdsson in his most heartbreaking moments, culminating in his long-awaited confrontation with the other man in his wife’s life.

Palmason focuses his story on the everyday isolation that comes with great grief, that loneliness that engulfs us when we feel like our lives are completely falling apart but the rest of the world has the nerve to keep on turning. We watch Ingimundur as he goes through the motions of playing on his soccer team (with his wife’s suspected lover), cleaning up his house, and taking his granddaughter fishing, yet it’s clear that there is a hole in his life that no amount of repetition — or revenge — will ever be able to fill. While the near-glacial pace of A White, White Day might try the patience of some audience members who would prefer their Scandinavian thrillers with a hefty side of gratuitous violence, it’s this focus on the mundane that renders Ingimundur’s pain so poignantly real.

A White, White Day: Conclusion

Anchored by Sigurdsson’s striking performance, A White, White Day explores the aftermath of a life and a marriage with an intensely introspective eye.

What do you think? Are you familiar with Icelandic cinema? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

A White, White Day is currently available for streaming via virtual screening rooms that support your local theaters — check the Film Movement website to find theaters near you.

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