A White, White Day (Hvítur, hvítur dagur, Iceland-Denmark-Sweden, 2019) – GFF1

The living dead

The title comes from an Icelandic proverb that suggests when the weather makes the day ‘white’ the dead can speak to the living. Despite my caption to the image, it’s not a zombie movie though the excellent Ingvar Sigurdsson, as Ingimundur, is barely living suffering as he is from grief at the loss of his wife. He directs his energies at renovating an isolated house, introduced with interesting non-narrative shots (that is, they are not designed to move the story forward) showing the changes of weather and in the building, and his 9-year-old granddaughter, brilliantly played by Ída Mekkín Hlynsdóttir.

I seem to have hit a vein of Nordic films at festival centred around grief: the Swedish Koko-di Koko-da at London and the Finnish Dogs Don’t Wear Pants in Leeds; both released in the UK this month. My impression of this film was that it suffered from a first-time director’s penchant for building a film around set pieces at the expense of the whole. This proved to be incorrect insofar writer-director Hlynur Palmason also directed the well-received Winter Brothers (Vinterbrødre, Iceland, 2017). One such sequence is the eerie opening which follows a car on a fog-filled road; another is a confrontation between Ingimundur and a man he suspects… (no spoiler).

Unlike the two other films, I didn’t get a sense of how damaging to the psyche grief can be; although, to be fair, the others worked through metaphor: horror and sado-masochism respectively. A White, White Day is more realist which means to milieu needs to be clearly delineated. This was a problem as I wasn’t clear on why the protagonist was required to look after Salka so often; his daughter apparently couldn’t cope.

That said, there is plenty in the film to keep the interest; not least the stunning cinematography by Maria von Hausswolff. Iceland’s landscape lends itself to the uncanny, as it has a brooding beauty that connotes (to me) an elemental feeling. The music, too, brilliantly adds to the otherworldliness, which perfectly reflects Ingimundur’s state to mind. I was reminded of Hildur Guðnadóttir’s superb Oscar-winning score for Joker, but this one was created by British composer Edmund Finnis, his first soundtrack.

I mentioned the non narrative montage of the house above; there’s also a scene of a rock tumbling down the hill. On it goes and goes and goes with no affect on the narrative. It’s a bold moment that, in retrospect, you realise its foreshadowing what the protagonist is going to do.

This was my first film at the Glasgow Film Festival (my first visit) and it was a good start.



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