Painting it black: "A White, White Day"

Drama/thriller, not rated, 109 minutes, on demand at Violet Crown and Film Movement's Virtual Cinema, 4 chiles

Director Hlynur Palmason’s saga, which was Iceland’s official Oscar submission for Best International Feature Film in February, is a searing portrait of a grief-stricken man. After his wife dies in an auto accident, Ingimundur (Ingvar Sigurdsson), an off-duty police officer, tries to push away his despair by remodeling an old homestead. When his brother’s wife gives Ingimundur a box of his deceased wife’s belongings, he discovers evidence in it that she may have been having an affair. Slowly, he succumbs to a growing obsession in his search for answers, leading him on an odyssey that endangers the lives of his family.

A White, White Day tells this story languidly. Its slow-burner plot doesn’t begin to take shape until nearly 40 minutes into its runtime. Shots ofthe house he’s constructing are seen from the outside for several minutes at a time, first in daylight, then at night, and then through the changes of the seasons. It’s a film of details, with lengthy scenes of little to no dialogue that require the viewer to pay attention to subtle visual elements, like a page marker in a book with a list of dates and times, a glimpse of a video monitor showing a bouquet of flowers by the guardrail where Ingimundur’s wife went off the road. Was it Ingimundur who placed it there? A member of his family? Or his wife’s lover?

The film is masterful in its depiction of human behavior. For instance, there’s a scene in which Ingimundur is going through his wife’s things and discovers an old shirt. His instinct is to sniff it. Although he’s the only one in the house, he still takes a quick, furtive glance around before doing so. Later, when confessing to a friend his suspicions that she was unfaithful, their conversation is interrupted by his granddaughter Salka (Ída Mekkín Hlynsdóttir) — who wants to play them a new song she learned on the keyboard — and the conversation is never taken back up again. You can sense Ingimunder’s frustration, yet he tries gamely to indulge Salka.

Ingimundur is a hard man who masks his grief in stoicism. While his family is still in mourning and tries to discuss how they feel, he refuses to listen. You sense that his pain is so great that if he were to let it out, it would destroy him. Rage seems to boil just below the surface of his demeanor. He can’t resist violently ramming the man he believes was sleeping his wife. It’s an understated performance and a fascinating character study. Despite the film’s unhurried pace, it isn’t boring. Sigurdsson is compelling to watch.

A White, White Day also makes the most of its exteriors: Iceland’s mist-shrouded fjords, windswept grassy knolls, and rain-drenched open fields. They lend the film a sense of solitude and haunting despair.

In the way of metaphor, when Ingimunder chucks a large rock off the road to avoid a safety hazard, we follow its trajectory as it rolls down a steep incline, over a cliff, and into the sea. Then the film cuts to a shot beneath the water’s surface where we see it descend to the very bottom. Its path mirrors the state of his own soul: a prolonged descent into the poisoned waters of revenge.

But the innocence and unassuming affection of Salka could save him from going over the edge, like that hurtling stone. 

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