This one had good reviews – at least as good as Shirley’s – so off I and the girls went to the flix once again.
Somewhere in Iceland, a car follows a curving road through an icy landscape shrouded in fog and mist which prevent us from seeing what’s beyond the road, but judging by the speed at which the car is travelling, we just know something bad is going to happen. And it does: the car fails to take a curve and plunges through a low fence and off the road and out of sight.
There follows a sequence of establishing shots all taken from the same point of a big barnlike building on a flat piece of land with mountains behind it, in all different seasons and at different times of the day. Sometimes it’s freezing and snowbound, sometimes green and lush. Horses come and go, and you feel for them when it’s wintry. Eventually a big red SUV arrives. It belongs to Ingimundur, a semi-retired police chief. At least I think he’s semi-retired; this movie takes a decidedly minimalist approach to explaining the plot and the characters.
We see Ingimundur from this same distance a few more times working on the place, putting in windows and doors, and at long last the camera moves in to show him entering with his eight-year-old granddaughter, Salka. He says it will soon be ready as a home for her and her mother. They find a horse inside, escaping the cold, which is a nice scene and which makes them both laugh, although the poor horse gets turfed out.
Thereafter there’s not a lot of laughter, but there is a lot of repressed grief and brooding vengefulness. It turns out it was Ingimundur’s wife who was killed in the car accident, and looking through a box of her old papers and videotapes he begins to suspect she was having an affair with a family friend and becomes obsessed with finding out the truth, in so doing jeopardising his career and throwing the peaceful lives of his family and the wider community into turmoil, not to mention threatening his one source of happiness: his relationship with his granddaughter, played by a delicate blonde child called Ida Mekkin Hlynsdottir, for whom I foresee a great career as an elfin princess in the next big fantasy franchise or cinematic Viking saga.
A White White Day has had more popular than critical success. Iceland entered it for Best International Feature Film at the 2019 Academy Awards, but it wasn’t nominated. On Rotten Tomatoes it has an impressive 96% approval rating, which surprises me a bit as it’s very slow-moving and full of Nordic gloom.
Mary hated it, Libby and I liked it better than Shirley. We liked the intense sense of place conveyed by the exotic Icelandic setting, and the central tragedy is a good story. The violence, when it comes, is performed by ordinary people unused to it and not skilled in doing it. This convincing naturalism makes it all the more shocking.
I didn’t mind the slow pace or the long slow still cinematography – a refreshing change from that bloody jerky hand-held camerawork!
The main problem is with the verbal minimalism of the plot. It really does take ages to work out who’s who and who belongs where, and I for one was left with numerous questions. Scoot ahead to the last paragraph if you don’t want anything even remotely spoilerish.
The woman who appears at the end as his wife in flashback – was she that young when she had the affair with the other fella? If so, how could she be the mother of the two younger women who are Ingimundur’s daughters? She looks the same age! And if he was remembering a much earlier occasion, then – and apologies to the sisterhood here for slandering older women although I am one myself – wouldn’t she have been too old – as old as Ingimundur at least – to have been having an affair with and described as beautiful by that younger man? I mean, it COULD have been like that, but there should have been more exposition and explanation here.
And why the hell did he get out of the car when they came to the blocked tunnel? Why not turn the car round and go back? And why leave the car door open? And why piggy-back his granddaughter when he was wounded and she was more capable than he of leaping over a pile of dirt?
Maybe it’s just me. Another friend who has seen A White White Day claimed to have all the answers, although even she wasn’t sure about the scene where Ingimundur finds a big rock in the middle of the ‘guilty’ road and sends it tumbling over the cliff. It was bound to be symbolic of something, but I’m not so literal-minded as to complain about a spot of enigmatic imagery in a film like this.