[Movie Review] A White, White Day (2019)

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Iceland, Denmark | Drama | NR | Director: Hlynur Palmason | Writer: Hlynur Palmason | Cast: Ingvar Eggert Sigurðsson, Ída Mekkín Hlynsdóttir, Hilmir Snær Guðnason | Icelandic | 109 minutes


Hlynur Pálmason, the Icelandic director whom first feature film 'Winter Brothers' has succeeded in capturing many notable awards, comes back with a new film 'A White, White Day'. The title itself is actually referring to a natural occurrence where the streets are so white because there are no clear boundaries between the skies and whatever lays below it as the whole panorama is covered with thick, unsettling mist. The movie tries to utilize such aforementioned event as a philosophical medium to describe the enigma behind the film's titular character's struggle in dealing with stages of grief. At the beginning of the story, the narrative presents us with a statement coming from the land of Iceland itself saying the dead are capable of conversing with those who are still alive when a 'white, white day' ensues.

Subsequently, it seizes us to behold a sight of a life-ending sequence where a driver who is driving down the road, trying to go through what seems to be a zero visibility condition. Not long after, the car follows a wrongful turn and goes straight down into the unforgiving depth of a sea. Later on, it is revealed that the driver is a wife to Ingimundur (Ingvar E Sigurðsson), an out of service local police chief. He's currently living in a dilapidated farmhouse and as a way to cope with his unbearable inner wound, he resorts to serving the house a favor by slowly repairing it even though he admits to his adviser that he doesn't want to repair the home. While it might depict a cliche metaphor where Ingimundur would slowly heal himself by restoring the house, it still is exciting to see because as the movie goes on you'll notice that the narrative intention is not to cause us the audience to empathize with him but to understand his state of mind and the way he sees things from his perspective.

Palmason bravely picks us up to a journey of a man who is gradually, sluggishly surrendering his consciousness to the sense of anguish. This is not by any means a kind of chronicle that could be enjoyed by everyone as we're assuredly going to dive deep to the center of Ingimundur's swirling frustration triggered not only by the unpleasant feeling of loss but also by the raging animosity as he is suspecting his wife for having an affair with a fellow colleague of him prior to her tragic death. He's lethargically leaning on towards his more aggressive side, displaying a set of 'too-much-to-swallow' acts such as recounting horrendous tales to his own granddaughter Salka (Ída Mekkín Hlynsdóttir), showing an excessively hostile behavior on his friends while playing sports and sadomasochistically excruciating himself by repeatedly watching sex tapes of him and his late wife.

In 'A White, White Day', there are many noticeable growths shown by Palmason as a director if one shall compare it with his debut work 'Winter Brothers'. Although his previous work is nonetheless pretty good for an introduction for Palmason, we could have seen that he put more emphasis on the film's visual style and rendered it all too safe with the storyline. In this movie, we can perceive Palmason's witty character writing style as shown by the embodiment of unconventional personality development which he prepared for every role available in store, particularly Ingimundur. As a matter of course, the script includes several flip sides, and the most discernible one is the unbearably sickening pace in momentum building. For a motion picture that dwells on the theme of visceral torment, anger, and pain, it moves in what could be said as an extremely slothful tempo. You might as well implode with impatience before the figurines get to firmly tell their stories.

And despite the congenial character writing and all that intriguing build-up, the plot is getting considerably weaker in terms of event exposition entering the last third and its culmination is inordinately orthodox for a story intended to be something out of ordinary. Therefore, its definitive concluding moments could not really land and do not impact the audience the way it does to the appearing characters. Sigurðsson did more than enough to convince the viewers with his palpable understanding of Ingimundur's character and encapsulates every stage of grief to the point of peculiar satisfaction by virtue of his robust, flagrant on-screen presence. It's hard to maintain our sympathy over his persona due to the increasing lust for violence as the story goes by but that means he did the job just as Palmason aimed him to be.

Hlynsdóttir performance as Salka is a delightful addition to the overall zest of the feature, providing the yang to Ingimundur's yin as she's the one who holds the contrasting aspects to the wounded cop's revolting shticks. The finely polished visual aesthetic is always expected from every Palmason's film (and hopefully, it will stay that way). Tender cinematography, combining proficient utilization of the object-centric medium angle and close-up shots which tend to put the focus not on what's happening on the scene but more on the characters' psychological thoughts on what he's/she's thinking about and what he/she wants to achieve in that particular picture. If I have to describe one last thing about 'A White, White Day', the aftertaste of it makes me wonder about what kind of stories Palmason is going to make in the future instead of fulfilling my craving for some nice Icelandic cinematic delicacies.


Review written by: Dysan Aufar