LFF 2019: A White, White Day Review
Being interviewed by a grief counsellor, off duty Icelandic police chief, Ingimundur (Ingvar E. Sigurðsson), is asked a series of questions about his life: who he thinks he is, his current state of mind and how others might see him. But he’s a stubborn old goat who has little interest in revealing his true feelings. The counsellor enquires about the house he is building for his daughter’s young family and asks Ingimundur what he wants. Confused by the question at first, he responds bluntly “To build a house.” The counsellor presses further by seeing what the opposite of that might be. “To stop building it,” he replies.
Writer-director Hlynur Palmason's profile of a man struggling to move on from the unexpected death of his wife is led by a towering performance from Sigurðsson. He’s widely regarded as an acting legend in Iceland and collected the Critics' Week best actor award at Cannes for his portrayal of a character disconnected from his feelings in the wake of a devastating emotional disaster. We’re never quite sure how long has passed since the accident, but a fixed shot of the house being built by Ingimundur shows the day and months flash by as the property slowly starts to takes shape.
Working as a metaphor for the mental condition of its builder, another comment made to the counsellor by Ingimundur when asked how construction is coming along reveals the house is now weatherproof. While it can withstand the outside world the interior is still sparsely furnished. It remains a work in progress throughout the film but you’re surprised it doesn’t come crashing down around his ears when buried emotions rupture to surface and threaten to engulf his life.
The opening of a box of his deceased wife’s possessions is all it takes to make Ingimundur obsessed with the idea she was having an affair before she died. In a way it opens up into a personal procedural investigation, using his police skills to examine evidence and track down the culprit still living in this small sea-bound town. Finding out who the man is doesn’t take too long in such a rural setting, but his growing rage and inability to consider anyone around him alienates even his staunchest defenders.
While not exactly the warmest of souls, Ingimundur’s caring side shows itself when seen taking care of his 8-year-old granddaughter, Salka (Ída Mekkín Hlynsdóttir), although like everyone else, she is not immune from his angry outbursts. Beyond his tough-man exterior he has love to give but it doesn’t offer itself easily. Which is why Palmason’s film is as much about the way men damage themselves by internalising their weaknesses, as it is about learning to cope when your perception of a deceased loved one has been turned on its head.
Yet there’s no solid resolution and mysteries linger around Ingimundur’s story beyond the credits. A quote at the start of the film suggests something otherworldly (there are also reports of strange weather in the region) and we never learn where the security camera screens watching the local roads are located. Meshed together with Edmund Finnis’ score and Maria von Hausswolff’s stark photography, those unexplained elements offer a refreshing spin on a drama that would likely be handled in more conventional terms by a lesser director.
A White, White Day plays at this year's London Film Festival.
You can read more of our LFF coverage here.