April 17, 2020
by Carla Hay
Directed by Hlynur Pálmason
Icelandic with subtitles
Culture Representation: Taking place in Iceland, the dramatic film “A White, White Day” has an all-white cast of characters representing the middle-class.
Culture Clash: A widowed off-duty police officer becomes increasingly obsessed with the suspicion that his late wife was having an affair.
Culture Audience: “A White, White Day” will appeal mostly to people who like arthouse films that are a slow burn to a riveting climax.
On the surface, an Icelandic off-duty police officer named Ingimundur (Ingvar Sigurðsson) seems to be a contented grandfather. He spends a lot of time doting on his spunky pre-teen granddaughter Salka (Ída Mekkín Hlynsdóttir), and he’s also busy building a house on the rural property that he owns with his brother. But looks can be deceiving. Ingimundur, who has been widowed for two years, is slowly unraveling. “A White, White Day” gradually builds up to the day when Ingimundur can no longer pretend to be “normal.”
“A White, White Day” (written and directed Hlynur Pálmason) moves at much of the same glacial pace that life does in the rural part of Iceland where Ingimundur lives. The film is more concerned with being a character study than it is being a movie where something dramatic or compelling has to happen in every scene. In fact, most of the first six minutes of the film consists of different exterior shots of the remote farm house where Ingimundur lives and the changing seasons.
There are many “slice of life” moments in the film, such as the playful banter that Ingimundur and Salka have with each other, the peer-group soccer games in which he participate in his spare time, and the often-dull work that he has at police headquarters, since the crime rate in the area is very low. His two main co-workers at the police station are relatively laid-back Bjössi (played by Sigurður Sigurjónsson), who is close to Ingimundur’s age, and ambitious hothead Hrafn (played by Arnmundur Ernst Björnsson), who’s young enough to be Ingimundur’s son.
But there are signs that Ingimundur is troubled. In a meeting with his psychiatrist Georg (played by Þór Tulinius), Ingimundur says that he’s stopped having nightmares and he isn’t as lonely when his granddaughter Salka comes over to visit. Ingimundur often babysits Salka when her parents—Ingimundur’s daughter Elín (played by Elma Stefania Agustsdottir) and her husband Stefán (played by Haraldur Stefansson)—have to be at work. Georg tries to get Ingimundur to open up more about his feelings, but Ingimundur insists that he’s just fine.
The very beginning of the film shows a car skidding off of a cliffside highway during a rainy and foggy day. Viewers find out later that the car’s driver was Ingimundur’s wife. Her tragic, accidental death is still haunting the family two years later. Elín has been drinking heavily, and Ingimundur asks Stefán to take care of her. At a family gathering, Ingimundur’s other daughter Ingibjörg (played by Laufey Elíasdóttir) tells Ingimundur that she’s finally gathered her late mother’s belongings and they’re ready for him to pick up.
When Ingimundur is alone and going through the boxes of his late wife’s possessions, he finds some things that trigger the suspicion that she was cheating on him with another man named Olgeir Karl Olafsson (played by Hilmir Snær Guðnason). He finds out Olgeir’s address and phone number by looking him up in a phone book. He calls Olgeir, but hangs up every time that he answers. Ingimundur also goes over to Olgeir’s house, just to watch what’s going on.
The movie will keep viewers guessing on what is going to happen next. It’s enough to say that a “White, White Day” takes its time to dig into Ingimundur’s psyche and expose his true state of mind. The last 30 minutes of the film are a series of events that result from Ingimundur’s obsession with finding out the truth about the nature of his wife’s relationship with the man whom he’s been stalking.
Viewers get a major hint that “A White White Day” isn’t going to be a warm and fuzzy movie when this quote is shown on screen in the prologue: “On such days when everything is white, and there is no longer any difference between the earth and the sky, then the dead talk to us who are still living.” However, the movie isn’t entirely bleak, since the loving relationship that Ingimundur and Salka have with each other is a bright spot in his life.
Sigurðsson does a haunting performance of a man who’s trying to hold his life together, even though he feels deep down like his life is falling apart. As for Hlynsdóttir, who makes her feature-film debut in “A White, White Day,” she is particularly good in her authentic portrayal of Salka.
The deliberate pacing of “A White, White Day” won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but writer/director Hlynur Pálmason clearly used this method to show how someone’s mental instability can easily be hidden among the everyday and mundane activities of life. The movie is a meditation on the toxic effects of grief, as well as a cautionary tale showing that sometimes people are their own worst enemies instead of the adversaries they think they hate.
Film Movement released “A White, White Day” through Film Movement’s Virtual Cinema with participating U.S. theaters on April 17, 2020. The movie was already released in Iceland in 2019.