Iceland’s selection for the International Film category at this year’s Academy Awards, “A White, White Day” begins with an Icelandic proverb about the kind of weather that makes it possible for “the dead to talk to us.”
The film tells the story of Ingimundur, a retired police officer (a commanding turn by Cannes Award-winner Ingvar Sigurdsson), whose grief over the death of his wife turns into simmering rage against the man with whom he learns she was having an affair. In opening shots, we see a series of disconcerting, time-shifting cuts of a stark, dual-section house in the hinterlands (Iceland is mostly hinterlands), where Ingimundur is making repairs and installing a big glass sliding door to make the place habitable for his daughter and her family.
This includes Ingimunder’s beloved 8-year-old granddaughter, Salka (a terrific Ida Mekkin Hlynsdottir). Ingimundur’s daughter Elin (Elma Stefania Agustsdottir) and husband Stefan (Haraldur Stefansson) have a toddler, as well, so Salka spends a lot of time with her grandfather, who like all grandfathers is mostly her chauffeur, driving the spirited Salka to and from school in his not-so late model Land Rover.
This can be dangerous in Iceland, where whiteouts are common and where we see a Volvo station wagon crash through guardrails and plunge into the sea in the opening. Like the sky and mountains, which surround the bay where the house is located, the sea is another character in “A White, White Day.” It is always close in the part of the rugged country where the film’s characters live. It provides food and a form of travel and can be deadly.
Going through a box of his late wife’s belongings, Ingimundur learns of his wife’s affair and the identity of the man. Among the things he does is join a football (soccer) team in order to blindside his wife’s ex-lover. Sigurdsson gives Ingimundur a Lear-like rage and royally entitled recklessness. No one is going to stop him, not the analyst he must see regularly on Skype, or his fellow policemen, two of whom he beats up and locks up in the station cells. Don’t let the white beard fool you. Ingimundur is still a warrior, and he’s dangerous when angry.
Thirty-something writer-director Hlynur Palmason of the award-winning “Winter Brothers” (2017) continues to examine the psychology of families and has another winner with this offbeat, emotionally and visually gripping entry.
In an early scene at the house, Ingimundur and Salka encounter a pony in the soon-to-be living room of the house, a reminder that we are all animals. Salka plays classical music, knows that Schumann “went mental” and whacks a salmon against the edge of a table to kill it. For his part, a half-mad Ingimundur tells Salka a terrifying “bedtime story” about a corpse searching for its stolen liver. The string score by Edmund Finnis keeps nerves on edge.
“A White, White Day” is a mad ride into our inner Icelandic wilderness.
“A White, White Day” is opening virtually at the Magic Lantern. Find a link at magiclanternonmain.com.
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