🇮🇸 A WHITE, WHITE DAY 🇮🇸
A WHITE, WHITE DAY aka Hvítur, hvítur dagur (2019) is an Icelandic drama, mystery, thriller feature film. At present on BBC Iplayer, Prime Video U.K., Hoopla, Tubi, Prime US, Fetch Aus, Hoopla, MUBI Can. 1 hr 49 min. 15 Cert U.K.
“An off duty police begins to suspect a local man for having had an affair with his recently dead wife. Gradually his obsession for finding out the truth accumulates and inevitably begins to endanger himself and his loved ones.” IMDb
Ingvar Sigurdsson as Ingimundur
Ída Mekkin Hlynsdóttir as Salka
Hilmir Snær Guðnason as Olgeir
Sara Dögg Ásgeirsdóttir as Ingimundur’s Wife
Björn Ingi Hilmarsson as Trausi
Elma Stefania Agustsdottir as Elín
Haraldur Stefansson as Stefán
Laufey Eliásdóttir as Ingibjörg
Sigurður Sigurjónsson as Bjössi
Arnmundur Ernst Björnsson as Hrafn
Þór Tulinius as Georg (Psychiatrist)
Sverrir Þór Sverrisson as Sveppi
Ída Mikaelsdóttir as Elín’s Child
Director: Hlynur Pálmason
Writer: Hlynur Pálmason
Music: Edmund Finnis
Cinematographer: Maria von Hausswolff
Editor: Julius Krebs Damsbo
Hlynur Pálmason also wrote and directed Winter Brothers (previously reviewed).
Maria von Hausswolf was also the cinematographer on Winter Brothers and Parents (previously reviewed).
Julius Krebs Damsbo has edited on projects such as Ride Upon the Storm, Rita and Winter Brothers.
A White, White Day was selected as Iceland’s entry to the Academy Awards 2020 for Best Foreign Film.
Two notable pieces feature in the soundtrack (aside from those by Edmund Finnis) “Memories” by Leonard Cohen and “Kinderszenen” by Robert Schumann.
“On such days when everything is white and there is no longer any difference between the earth and the sky then the dead can talk to us who are still living (unknown source)” (Opening title card to the film)
I was keen to see A White, White Day as it received so many awards and nominations and positive professional reviews. So what are my thoughts and feelings a day after watching this film for the first time?
Although this may not appear to be a narrative film, it is, but it is also far more than just a straight narrative being rich with symbolism that is woven through the story itself. There is dialogue though and when dialogue happens it happens because it is important. Listen to what it tells you, not only by what is said but, just as importantly, by what remains unsaid.
A White, White Day opens with a very long opening scene in which the camera follows a car along an Icelandic road on a white, white day of poor visibility. The length of this scene reaches a point of discomfort for the viewer as we wonder what and when something is going to happen. And then… it does, as the car drives straight on at a corner, crashes through a safety barrier and plummets out of view. We do not see who is in the car at any point before it disappears.
The next scene is of a building (we are not even sure what sort of building it is, initially) and a long series of the building being filmed through different seasons, and the occasional appearance of some Icelandic horses. Eventually, a car and figures appear and disappear. For anyone wondering, this whole section is to show the passing of time, visually (2 years). This is just one example of how this film uses “show” rather than “tell”.
The house is being built for Ingimundur’s daughter and granddaughter (there’s a very weird dynamic with his son-in-law and no mention by him of the baby born since his wife’s death!) We see the construction progress and how it is used by him to opt-out from other aspects of life a lot of the time. This house project is his way of coping with his grief.
He is unhappy to admit to any problems in the way he is grieving when he sees his psychiatrist for therapy (I assume this was police force mandated) and as the story progresses his reaction to the therapist become far more uncontrolled and violent.
When we see him with his family, especially his 8-year-old granddaughter, Salka, he is, at the start present only in body as he is completely detached from emotions. He never smiles, he is disengaged, even when she plays the most beautiful piece of music. This is a man who is so deep in grief that he is on autopilot.
We gradually learn that it was Ingimundur’s wife who died in the crash. It is important for the narrative that he is a policeman because that underpins how he “investigates” his late wife’s possible affair with a colleague and his plan for revenge.
As the film progresses we see Ingimundur investigate, lash out at nearest and dearest and his colleagues, take out his wife’s “lover” on the football pitch and frankly becoming so obsessed with revenge that this becomes his new focus now that the house is complete. But he is still not actually dealing with the grief.
We get glimpses that not all was well with his marriage, although he is still clearly deeply in love with his wife. Her affair is a direct reflection upon both their marriage and him as a person. I think it is safe to say that Ingimundur is not a particularly endearing person for much of this film and is positively toxic at times. He is absolutely vicious in his verbal assault on his young granddaughter and breaks her heart. I wondered whether his extreme anger was because she accepted death in a way that he just cannot. At this point, I was angry with him myself, thinking “What about the living? What about your loved ones?”
Ultimately he decides to swerve away from his revenge at the last minute but being punished for what he did violently in front of a distraught Salka snaps him out of this self-destructive anger and leads him with her through a tunnel towards a clearer day. I found the very final scene really emotional indeed and thought back to one key question his therapist asked him…
Windows feature a LOT in A White, White Day and are frequently used to frame shots in a way that means the viewer has to look at the image and not around it. We look out of windows, we look into them and we hear no dialogue when we are outside we just people-watch.
There is a lengthy shot that follows a rock that was in the middle of the road that Ingimundur pushes over the edge that then plummets, tumbles, bounces, tumbles more and finally leaps over the cliff edge to the sea below where it sinks to the bottom where it could stay for the next millennia. Who will ever know its story? Does this incident mirror the fall the car took at the start? Quite likely when we see the wrecked car at one point with seaweed around its tyres.
The cinematography and editing of this film (I cannot imagine how much editing the house scene near the start must have taken). This is a film full of stunning images and imagery with an unusual music score which adds to the “distress” even though things may look calm.
Ingvar Sigurdsson as Ingimundur gives a phenomenal,
dominating performance. He has an imposing physicality and convinces with brutal edge of physical and verbal violence offset by the subtleties of his emotions and a grief-stricken man. The supporting cast is all excellent with the very young Ída Mekkin Hlynsdóttir being outstanding.
For me A White, White Day works well enough as a revenge movie however a study of grief (in all its stages) and the impact it has upon those left alive was what impacted me most. Some will find this film excessively slow whilst others may say that not much really happens but neither of those hold for me, I was mesmerised by it. This is a film with beautiful visuals and sound, with a world-class central performance.
19 wins and 21 nominations
Cannes Film Festival (2019) Louis Roederer Foundation Rising Star ~ Ingvar Sigurdsson
D’A Film Festival Barcelona (2020) Talent Award Winner ~ Hlynur Pálmason
Edda Awards (2020) Director of the Year ~ Hlynur Pálmason, Actor of the Year ~ Ingvar Sigurdsson, Supporting Actress of the Year ~ Ída Mekkín Hlynsdóttir, Best Cinematography ~ Maria von Hausswolff, Best Music ~ Edmund Finnis, Best Set Design ~ Hulda Helgadóttir
Montréal Festival of New Cinema (2019) Best Actor ~ Ingvar Sigurdsson
Nordic International Film Festival Best Nordic Narrative Feature Film ~ Hlynur Pálmason
Zurich Film Festival (2019) Special Mention, International Feature Film, Best Film ~ Hlynur Pálmason
More Icelandic Films: