Grief is in the eye of the beholder. It was when Meursault didn’t cry at his mother’s funeral in Camus’ The Stranger, when Jackie O was keeping decorum in Pablo Larrain’s underrated Jackie, and so it is in A White, White Day, the sophomore picture of Icelandic director Hlynur Palmason about a glum police officer in the aftermath of his wife’s death.
It starts with an eerie shot of a car in a winding road, swerving until it crashes against the rail and tumbles down the hill. A year on, we meet the widower Ingimundur (Ingvar Sigurdsson) as he starts building a house for his daughter’s family. Ingimundur’s life is patched together by a series of eventless moments, like he’s making it through life without much thought.
This stoic peacefulness is disturbed by suspicion his late wife was having an affair with one of Ingimundur’s soccer buddies. So, what do you do when the pain you’ve worked so hard to accept comes back with a bang? Ingimundur presses on, slowly accumulating frustration and waiting for that little inconsequential moment to come undone.
From that point onwards, A White, White Day becomes an emotional and cathartic tour-de-force. The final half hour lets Ingimundur purge all he has been missing out on, as though he has found ten additional stages of grief.
Sigurdsson plays Ingimundur with the kind of honest strength we remember from a Max von Sidow in height of his career. However, it is Palmason who is the true star of this picture.
In only his second film, he directs with the alluring confidence that would take other directors an entire career to develop. He subjects his characters against the unforgiving background of the Icelandic landscape. In a seminal moment, he takes time to shoot a rock rolling down the cliff until it settles in the bottom of the sea, and somehow, it is not trite, nor self-indulging. It does not take too long to be exhausting, but still manages to resonate on an emotional level. He’s a new exciting voice to follow.
A White, White Day is a film that would have made an impact even without a pandemic delaying all other releases. For all the talk about catharsis, pain and grief, it will leave you with a warm feeling of peace. And the journey to get there is more than worthy.
A White, White Day is now showing in Palace Cinemas and other selected cinemas.