In his bracing and assured sophomore feature A White, White Day, director Hlynur Palmason shows little interest in being cryptic or abstract. Even the evocative title gets explained by the opening text. The phrase refers to a foggy day where the horizon line is obliterated; sky and land become the same. In other words, not ideal driving conditions, as we learn in the blunt, shocking, wordless prologue in which an automobile skids out of control, crashes through a guardrail and plummets out of sight.
We’ll soon learn that the doomed driver of that car was the wife of Ingimundur (Ingvar Sigurdsson), a small town police officer and adoring grandfather to a precocious kid named Salka (Ída Mekkín Hlynsdóttir). As a well-liked and respected local widower, Ingimundur starts the film not unlike the Episcopal priest in M. Night Shyamalan’s Signs. But when Ingimundur’s horror arrives, it comes from a more devastating place. While going through a box of his beloved late wife’s belongings, he finds irrefutable evidence of an affair.
This is the stuff of melodrama (which is just what A White, White Day is) but, as with that opening car crash sequence, Palmason affects an ostensibly dispassionate mode. A montage of Ingimundur busying himself with home improvement projects and a sudden eruption of physical violence are captured with the same unemotional distance in long, unbroken, mostly static takes.
This approach requires Palmason to trust in his actors, a trust that pays off. Sigurdsson and Hlynsdóttir dominate the screentime and their affectionate bond contains no shred of performative falseness. But special mention should also be made of Þór Tulinius as Ingimundur’s soccer pal who has a crucial, frantic scene near the film’s end. We can also, however, take some emotional cues from A White, White Day‘s music, be it the discordant string bursts of Edmund Finnis’ score or the impeccable placement of Leonard Cohen’s “Memories.”
So far, I fear I’ve made A White, White Day sound like a pretty big bummer. But, for a film about the emotional fallout of grief and betrayal, it’s surprisingly funny. The comedy comes, in large part, from Palmason’s humanism, his love for his characters even at their most rash or selfish. But the aforementioned aesthetic approach also lends itself to the deadpan absurdity of someone reacting to pepper spray or the surprisingly existentialist children’s show Salka watches.
Melodrama, tragedy, comedy; A White, White Day offers multiple genres. But, by making Ingimundur a cop, Palmason (who also wrote the screenplay) gives his protagonist the vested authority to choose what fashion his narrative takes. At first, there’s a resistance on Ingimundur’s part to turning his story into a police thriller. Once he gives in, though, A White, White Day could be interpreted as a condemnation of the power of a uniform and badge. And perhaps it is. But it’s also a faultlessly realized plea for seeking control of one’s own emotions through means that lift us all up, not through punishment or vengeance.